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Riding the Bus: Barriers to Prison Visitation and Family Management Strategies

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 21 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2005 Pages: 31-48
Johnna Christian
Chris Eskridge
Date Published
February 2005
18 pages
This study explored family management of prison visiting as one of the costly consequences of incarceration.
How families bridge the gap between their lives outside and the life of their incarcerated loved one is somewhat of a mystery in the field of research. Examining the barriers to family connections and bonds with prisoners is one contribution to the understanding of the broader effects of incarceration. Drawing from an ethnographic study of how families’ lives are affected by incarceration, this study examined some barriers to prisoner ties to family that stem from the challenges of visiting at prisons. Data were obtained from 200 hours of observation at prison family support group meetings, attendance at activities aimed at prison families, and observation on five bus rides, each covering a 24-hour period, to two upstate New York prisons. In addition, in-depth interviews were conducted with 19 family members of prisoners. The research indicates that prisoners’ relationships with family are complex, fluid, and dynamic, in part because of the demands of visiting at prisons and maintaining contact with prisoners. Some families may deliberately sever their ties with a prisoner, and those who wish to maintain bonds with prisoners may be deterred from doing so because of the demands of visiting. The study proposes that there is a great deal of fluidity in family/prisoner relationships and that a variety of factors may explain the degree of connectedness. References