The purpose of this study was to develop a better understanding of the factors that influence whether a male prisoner's family stays involved in his life during incarceration. The study examined five domains to explore the family's relationship with the prisoner: (a) the prisoner's relationship with the family prior to the incarceration, (b) the strain (emotional, economic, stigma) that the incarceration has placed on the family, (c) the economic resources available to the family to maintain the prisoner, (d) the family's social support system, and (e) the prisoner's efforts to improve or rehabilitate himself while incarcerated.
Researchers conducted interviews with inmates from two New Jersey prisons and their family members between May 2005 and July 2006. Inmate participants met with researchers individually in private rooms within the prison where the study was explained and they were given an opportunity to consent to participate. Inmate interviews lasted an average of an hour, with a book of stamps provided as compensation. There were two interviewers at each session, one asking closed and open-ended questions and the other typing responses to open-ended questions. Upon completion of the interview, inmates were asked to provide contact information for the family member(s) identified as focal family. While inmates were willing, and in most instances able to provide at least an address and/or phone number for their families, making contact with family members proved difficult. In some instances, a phone number had been disconnected or an inmate was able to provide an address, but no phone number. In these cases, a general letter asking the family to contact the principal investigator was sent, but specific information about the nature of the study could not be included because of confidentiality requirements. Even when telephone contact was made, the specific topic of the study could not be revealed to anyone in the household except the individual for whom the information was provided.
Sampling for the project began with a review of the inmate rosters from two New Jersey prisons. A random sample of 100 inmates was chosen from each institution by selecting the nth inmate from an alphabetical roster. The prison's visiting cards were reviewed for each of the inmates randomly selected to determine whether a visit had been received in the six-month period before May 31, 2005. Inmates in special units of the prison, such as the gang unit, administrative segregation, and the psychiatric stabilization unit, were excluded because conducting interviews with these inmates was considered a security risk, and their access to outside visits was modified or restricted. A dual sampling strategy for identifying potential family members was ultimately used. In addition to obtaining contact information for family members from the interviewed inmates, the principal investigator spent time at one of the prisons on Saturday mornings outside of the prison and in the area where families waited for visits. After approaching family members and explaining the purpose of the study, contact information for the families was collected with the name of the inmate they were visiting. The university Institutional Review Board required that inmates be interviewed and give permission for their family member to consider participation.
All male inmates incarcerated in a New Jersey prison between May 2005 and July 2006 and their family members.
The data in Part 1 (Prisoner Quantitative Data) and Part 2 (Family Quantitative Data) include demographic variables such as age, race, marital status, length of relationship, number of children, length of prison sentence, and time served. Several variables focus on the contact between the inmate and family members before and during their incarceration, including if the inmate and family had lived together, frequency of contact (visits, phone calls, and mail) prior to and during incarceration, and frequency of visits from children. Other variables ask about the inmate's contributions to the family prior to incarceration (income, emotional support, help with children) and hardships the family might be experiencing due to the incarceration (loss of income, had to move, problem with childrens' behavior). The data in Part 1 also include variables about programs the inmate might have completed while incarcerated, prospects for parole, and any help the inmate received from family members while incarcerated. Part 2 also includes variables on any social support the family may have received and if the family member was aware of the inmate's criminal activity prior to incarceration. Part 3 (Prisoner Qualitative Data) and Part 4 (Family Qualitative Data) contain open-ended questions pertaining to the same subjects found in Parts 1 and 2.
A total of 35 (25 from one prison and 10 from the other) inmates and 15 family members were interviewed, comprising 13 inmate and family dyads, 1 inmate and family triad, and an additional 21 inmate interviews. Of the 50 interviews completed, 24 of the inmate respondents and five of the family respondents came from the initial random sample, and the rest through face-to-face contacts with the principal investigator. Two inmates refused to participate in the study, and three family members who were reached declined to participate.
Parts 1 and 2: Several Likert-type scales were used.
Parts 3 and 4: None.