The costs of incarceration for families of prisoners

Family members of incarcerated people are often faced with financial, social and emotional costs related to the imprisonment of their loved ones. These costs can be conceptualized as investments both in the sustenance of personal relationships and in a greater social good in the form of assisting with the reintegration of former prisoners. In this article, we draw upon data from a mixed-methods study to elucidate the costs of detention on families of prisoners. We demonstrate that financial, social and emotional costs associated with imprisonment of a family member are interrelated and often compound each other, indicating the importance of addressing them in a holistic framework.

About the authors

Megan Comfort
RTI International

Megan Comfort is a Senior Research Sociologist at RTI International and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her work focuses on the repercussive effects of justice-system involvement on relationships, health and well-being; HIV risk and prevention among justice-involved people; and health disparities among urban poor populations.

Tasseli McKay
RTI International

Tasseli McKay is a Research Analyst at RTI International. Her work focuses on intimate partner violence prevention and response, couple and family relationships in the context of justice-system involvement, strategies for improving health coverage and access to care among justice-involved people, and other issues at the intersection of public health and criminal justice policy.

Justin Landwehr
RTI International

Justin Landwehr is an Economist at RTI International. His work focuses on behavioural health and criminal justice topics, using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

Erin Kennedy
RTI International

Erin Kennedy is a Public Health Research Analyst at RTI International. Her work focuses on prisoner experiences of incarceration, re-entry and sexual assault; substance abuse prevention; and law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice.

Anupa Bir
RTI International

Anupa Bir is the Director of RTI International’s Women, Children, and Families Program. Her work focuses on the wellbeing of vulnerable populations and aligning incentives with various systems, including the welfare, child welfare, corrections and health systems, to improve well-being.

Christine Lindquist
RTI International

Christine Lindquist is a Senior Research Sociologist at RTI International. Her work focuses on violence against women, victimization and offending, prisoner re-entry, and families and incarceration.