Joyce A Arditti, Parental Incarceration and the Family: Psychological and Social Effects of Imprisonment on Children, Parents, and Caregivers

AuthorAnne Nurse
Date01 December 2013
Published date01 December 2013
Subject MatterBook reviews
Joyce A Arditti, Parental Incarceration and the Family: Psychological and Social Effects of Imprisonment
on Children, Parents, and Caregivers, New YorkUniversity Press: New York, 2012; 249 pp. (including
index): 9780814705124, $39.00 (hbk)
In Parental Incarceration and the Family Joyce Arditti presents a comprehensive
review of the literature on incarceration and its effects on families. She synthesizes
information from peer-reviewed studies in fields including psychology, sociology,
and criminology. The review of the literature is enhanced by case studies that
illustrate the major points and themes.
Unlike many literature reviews, Arditti’s book uses a theoretical framework to
tie the studies together. She combines Ecological Theory (by Urie Bronfenbrenner)
and Developmental Contextualism (by Richard Lerner) to argue that we must
consider context, process, outcomes, and risk/protective factors in evaluating the
impact of incarceration on families. Importantly, the book focuses not on
the individual prisoner or on the child of the prisoner, but rather takes a ‘family
perspective’ to understand the impact of incarceration across relationships.
Chapter 1 describes Arditti’s methods and lays out the theoretical basis of the
book. In Chapter 2 she focuses on the ‘context and process’ of incarceration. Here
the author discusses the lives of prisoners prior to their incarceration and traces out
some of the paths that lead to prison. She describes how cumulative disadvantage
characterizes many prisoners’ lives and then goes on to discuss how prison adds
further layers of disadvantage, particularly in terms of parenting. The remaining
chapters are divided into a discussion of maternal incarceration (Chapter 3), paternal
incarceration (Chapter 4), and the effects of incarceration on families and children
(Chapter 5).
The final chapter of the book is devoted to a discussion of policy and its poten-
tial to mitigate incarceration’s harm to family well-being. Arditti suggests that
policies and programs must acknowledge the complexity of prisoners’ lives and
the ways that context shapes the effectiveness of interventions. She argues that we
must pay particular attention to the ‘goodness of fit’ between programs and the
lived experience of people. The book contains an important discussion of the
evaluation research literature on different kinds of interventions (including men-
toring programs, drug treatment, and parenting programs). The author’s summary
makes it clear that translating good ideas into effective programs can be difficult
but is not impossible.
Researchers will welcome Arditti’s candid assessment of the strengths and weak-
nesses of studies that look at the impact of incarceration on the family. She points out
areas in need of research, including the effect of prison programming on mothering
and the impact of parental incarceration on caregivers. Additionally, Arditti’s book
uncovers the methodological weaknesses of much of the current literature. These
limitations are a result of the logistical difficulties associated with conducting research
with prisoners and parolees. The author points out, for example, that it would be
helpful to have studies that employ more representative and random samples.
In sum, the greatest strength of the book is its extremely comprehensive and
critical summary of the literature. The appendix provides a useful chart that
586 Punishment & Society 15(5)

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