Learning from Cathy

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Cathy, a Ph.D. candidate from the sociology department at Stanford, who has over 10 years experience studying prisons. A significant portion of her research was conducted in Boston where she worked with Bruce Western (who recently published a book titled Homeward about their research).

She has done significant research on the experience people who were incarcerated undergo during reentry. We discussed her research on the impact of the people connected to those undergoing reentry, such as their partners and family. In particular, she shared about the challenges of the family members who take on most of the care-taking, most of whom are women, such as moms, sisters, and aunts. The communities around people who are undergoing reentry is a point of interest I plan to dig into further.

I asked her for her thoughts on current interventions. She said the ones who meet the immediate needs of people who were incarcerated have the most impact, such as providing housing, jobs after they exit prison, food stamps, etc. She commented that many of the interventions for people who were imprisoned cross over with interventions for the poor since people who are poor are disproportionately incarcerated. The challenges she saw in Boston revolved around a critical need for housing. After people leave prison, they often double up with family members which places a burden on the household, straining other family members. There are not many housing options available for single men who have been incarcerated in Boston. 

I also asked her about the differing needs she’s found between women who have been imprisoned versus men. In her study, they had a sample representative of the imprisoned population, so only 12 women (12% of the total) participated. She said for women there is a higher likelihood of trauma and abuse within prisons.

Most importantly, we discussed the need to humanize people who have been imprisoned. There is a tendency of society to dehumanize this population and to judge them based on bad decisions, which is a very limited view of who they are. She kindly sent me a letter about the language we use to discuss those who are in and have been in prison. I found this letter extremely helpful for framing how I think about approaching my work.

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