Teaching and Learning Guide for: Examining Race and Sex Inequality in Recidivism
Article first published online: 6 SEP 2011
© 2011 The Author. Sociology Compass © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Volume 5, Issue 9, pages 846–849, September 2011
How to Cite
Wehrman, M. M. (2011), Teaching and Learning Guide for: Examining Race and Sex Inequality in Recidivism. Sociology Compass, 5: 846–849. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00406.x
- Issue published online: 6 SEP 2011
- Article first published online: 6 SEP 2011
This guide accompanies the following article: Michael M. Wehrman, ‘Examining Race and Sex Inequality in Recidivism’, Sociology Compass 5/3 (2011): 179–189, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00362.x.
Scholars and policymakers are well aware of the high likelihood of failure for recent releases from prison. High recidivism rates are expected, though not necessarily welcome. This article highlights some of the issues that go beyond noting that recidivism rates are simply high: they are higher for some groups than others. Identifying some of the unique mechanisms and processes that lead to race and gender disparity in recidivism rates will help inform policymakers as they seek to write effective policies aimed at a growing population of prisoners facing re-entry.
Broidy, Lisa and Robert Agnew. 1997. ‘Gender and Crime: A General Strain Theory Perspective.’Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 34: 275–306.
This article offers up a theoretical explanation specifically aimed at how women are influenced by General Strain Theory differently than men. In short, men are prone to respond to sources of strain with aggression and external attribution of blame; women, with depression and internal attribution of blame. As a result, they would be less likely to seek out external sources as a means of criminal coping. Of the many gender-specific theories, this has a unique application to those re-entering society, as the disruption they experience during transitioning out of prison is a significant source of strain.
Clear, Todd R. 2009. Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. Oxford University Press.
This book looks at the impact of mass incarceration on disadvantaged communities. As most prisoners come from poor neighborhoods, they return to (often the same) poor neighborhoods upon release. Such communities are characterized by strained resources and weak job opportunities for all its citizens – something that only exacerbates the high likelihood of recidivism for those leaving prison. An additional focus here is the concentration of African-Americans in impoverished communities, something that contributes to their markedly high recidivism rates.
Pager, Devah. 2009. Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. University of Chicago Press.
Pager focuses on comparing racial discrimination and felon exclusion in hiring practices in her highly regarded research. While racial discrimination in hiring is illegal and socially taboo, in most states failing to hire a felon due to their criminal history is not only legal, but considered a sensible business practice (at least in the eyes of the business owner). Pager finds that racial discrimination is greater than felon discrimination. However, she finds that African-Americans with a criminal background suffer from a ‘two strikes, you’re out’ pattern, as they experience the fewest chances of all at being hired. The policy implications for recidivism are clear, as being continually denied employment will only enhance the likelihood of reoffending (and, in this case, racial disparity in reoffending).
Reisig, Michael D., Kristy Holtfreter and Merry Morash. 2006. ‘Assessing Recidivism Risk Across Female Pathways to Crime.’Justice Quarterly 23: 384–405.
Female prisoners have lower recidivism rates compared with males. This article tests the predictive validity of a widely used risk assessment instrument, the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R). By comparing groups of women based on their motivation (economic motivation versus gendered pathways to crime), the authors find that the LSI-R was able to reliably predict recidivism for women whose offenses were economically motivated. For women whose motivations were gendered (e.g. drug-connected or harmed/harming women), the LSI-R’s predictions were significantly less successful. This reinforces that women’s pathways to crime, and also to reoffending, are influenced by different factors compared with men.
Western, Bruce. 2007. Punishment and Inequality in America. Russell Sage Foundation Publications.
Westerns’ work here summarizes the political causes of the mass incarceration period in American history. The impact of punitive policies of the past several decades has disproportionately targeted poor and minority populations. Similar to Clear’s book, Western discusses the impact of mass incarceration on poor minority communities, paying attention to the high likelihood of recidivism for those who reside in and return to such neighborhoods. In addition, he notes the impact of mass incarceration on masking wage disparity between non-incarcerated Whites and African-Americans.
National Reentry Resource Center: http://www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/
Established in 2008 with the passage of the Second Chance Act, the National Reentry Resource Center is a group of the Council of State Governments (CSG). The center recognizes the need to identify policies that work to assist the ever growing number of people leaving prison in transitioning to life outside of prison walls. They provide education, training, and assistance to states that seek to implement re-entry programs and policies in order to curb recidivism.
Prison Policy Initiative: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/
This organization is devoted to studying and presenting research findings on the impact of mass incarceration in individuals, communities, and the nation at large. Their research has helped show, in one example, how mandatory sentencing policies in Massachusetts neglected to protect children from exposure to crime, and additionally perpetuated racial disparity in prison populations (as the policy disproportionately impacted densely populated largely African-American communities).
This American Life Episode 430: Very Tough Love: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/430/very-tough-love
This radio program (approx. 60 min) tells of a drug court in Glynn County, GA. The judge in this court is well known for shouting down defendants, offering the harshest sentences possible, and in some cases imposing indefinite sentences. Such programs not only run contrary to the guiding philosophy of drug courts, but also impact a number of women as noted in the story – one of whom spent over 10 years behind bars and can not find work (due to felon status), all because she was found to have had two off-prescription pills in her purse.
Office of Justice Programs – Reentry: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/reentry/
The United States Department of Justice built this page to serve as a portal for news and resources on re-entry programs organized by the government. This includes programs and policies that emphasize the need for job training and job placement, as well as councils to study effective programs and policies. Links provide access to publications, as well as a list of available resources, opportunities, and programs.
The National H.I.R.E. Network: http://www.hirenetwork.org/index.html
The H.I.R.E. Network is an organization focused on helping formerly incarcerated offenders find work. Unlike other organizations that focus on developing and implementing programs, H.I.R.E. is closer to a lobbying organization, trying to impact state-level policy as well as educate the public on matters of re-entry, recidivism, and the risk current practices pose to communities. Special attention is paid to the disparate racial impact of policies that impact African-Americans and the communities they reside in.
A sociology course focusing on corrections and punishment should necessarily address issues of inequality. The sample section here specifically addresses inequality found in the outcomes of the corrections system. The Pager article focuses on inequality in hiring potential and discrimination for recent felons (and how it interacts with race). The Wehrman article is an summary of research on how race and sex influence postrelease outcomes, and the probability of recidivism.
Topics for lecture and discussion, sociology of corrections and punishment
Week 8: Inequality in punishment outcomes
Pager, Devah. 2003. ‘The Mark of a Criminal Record.’American Journal of Sociology108: 937–75.
Wehrman, Michael M. 2011. ‘Examining Race and Sex Inequality in Recidivism.’Sociology Compass5(3): 179–89.
- 1Given disparate recidivism rates for racial groups, should politicians consider possible policy solutions to reduce recidivism rates in minority populations? Discuss the pros and cons of such targeted policies.
- 2What are some means of reducing disparate minority representation in prisons (as a means of reducing disparity in recidivism rates)?
- 3Research shows that job opportunities for ex-felons, who are legally obligated to disclose their status, are few and far between. Should states reconsider forcing felons to disclose their background, or do business owners have the right to knowing who they are hiring?
- 4How might the public respond to policy changes that promote successful re-entry programs, such as furloughs, treatment centers, or employment policies? Which policies might be difficult to implement in light of public opinion?
- 5Identify some of the unique factors women experience during and after incarceration compared to men. What can be done to address those factors?
Group project – develop a re-entry agency
Students in this project will develop and present a plan for an agency focused on assisting recently released prisoners. They will use their knowledge to identify risks and needs for specific populations, research effective solutions, and identify potential sources of funding. They will develop programs to help provide solutions to the most pressing needs for prisoners returning to society. Students will present their plans for the program, and respond to questions and critiques of those plans from their classmates.