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Understanding Incarceration and Re-Entry Experiences of Female Inmates and their Children: The Women’s Prison Inmate Networks Study (WO-PINS)

This developmental study investigates the incarceration and re-entry experiences of female inmates and their children.

Project Team

  • Investigators: Derek Kreager, Department of Sociology & Criminology (dkreager@psu.edu), Gary Zajac, Sara Wakefield (Rutgers University), Dana Haynie (Ohio State University), and Michaela Soyer (Hunter College)

About the Project

  • This project will fill three critical knowledge gaps identified by the National Research Council in their report on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States: (1) the absence of even basic information on modern conditions of confinement, (2) the potential heterogeneity in incarceration effects across individual and institutional contexts, and (3) the limited understanding of any association between maternal incarceration and child well-being.
  • The proposed project will leverage strong relationships with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to explore the prison and re-entry experiences of female inmates incarcerated in two Pennsylvania prison units. 

Project Details

  • In Phase 1, investigators will reveal each units' informal organization and culture using innovative social network data that maps the unit's friendship network, status hierarchy, and romantic ties. Network analyses will test hypotheses for the sources of prison status and the associations between inmate social position and outcomes such as prison victimization, mental health, official misconduct, and family visitation.
  • In Phase 2, parole-eligible inmate respondents in the two Pennsylvania prisons will be administered semi-structured qualitative and network interviews to garner their future expectations, social capital, and preparations for community re-entry. Women's expected social networks provide a unique glimpse into the re-entry process that can later be compared to actual networks upon release. This phase of the project has clear implications for family reintegration, employment, post-release program participation, and relapse/recidivism. Contemporaneously, child and caregiver interviews will be conducted for inmate respondents who are mothers. These interviews will capture the well-being, fears, aspirations, and preparations of inmates' families and surrogate parents prior to prison release.
  • During Phase 3, investigators will conduct two post-release community interviews of Phase 2 respondents to understand how the previously imprisoned women, their children, and caregivers have adjusted to life after prison and if their envisioned plans came to fruition. The goals of this phase will be to identify and drill down on the mechanisms underlying successful prison re-entry and criminal desistance.

Project Products

  • Aided by an advisory board of social scientists, correctional practitioners, and child advocates, the project's data and products will test theoretically-driven hypotheses while also informing prison-based and community programs aimed at smoothing the inmate re-entry experience and reducing negative child and inmate health and behavioral outcomes. 
  • NIJ award for $685,857 over 3 years.