New Books in the Arts & Sciences and Justice Forum:
Celebrating Recent Work by Bruce Western
Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison
By: Bruce Western
In the era of mass incarceration, over 600,000 people are released from federal or state prison each year, with many returning to chaotic living environments rife with violence. In these circumstances, how do former prisoners navigate reentering society? In Homeward, sociologist Bruce Western examines the tumultuous first year after release from prison. Drawing from in-depth interviews with over one hundred individuals, he describes the lives of the formerly incarcerated and demonstrates how poverty, racial inequality, and failures of social support trap many in a cycle of vulnerability despite their efforts to rejoin society.
Western and his research team conducted comprehensive interviews with men and women released from the Massachusetts state prison system who returned to neighborhoods around Boston. Western finds that for most, leaving prison is associated with acute material hardship. In the first year after prison, most respondents could not afford their own housing and relied on family support and government programs, with half living in deep poverty. Many struggled with chronic pain, mental illnesses, or addiction—the most important predictor of recidivism. Most respondents were also unemployed. Some older white men found union jobs in the construction industry through their social networks, but many others, particularly those who were black or Latino, were unable to obtain full-time work due to few social connections to good jobs, discrimination, and lack of credentials. Violence was common in their lives, and often preceded their incarceration. In contrast to the stereotype of tough criminals preying upon helpless citizens, Western shows that many former prisoners were themselves subject to lifetimes of violence and abuse and encountered more violence after leaving prison, blurring the line between victims and perpetrators.
Western concludes that boosting the social integration of former prisoners is key to both ameliorating deep disadvantage and strengthening public safety. He advocates policies that increase assistance to those in their first year after prison, including guaranteed housing and health care, drug treatment, and transitional employment. By foregrounding the stories of people struggling against the odds to exit the criminal justice system, Homeward shows how overhauling the process of prisoner reentry and rethinking the foundations of justice policy could address the harms of mass incarceration.
About the Author:
Bruce Western is the Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice and Co-Director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. His research has examined the causes, scope, and consequences of the historic growth in U.S. prison populations. Current projects include a randomized experiment assessing the effects of criminal justice fines and fees on misdemeanor defendants in Oklahoma City, and a field study of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania state prisons. Western is also the Principal Investigator of the Square One Project that aims re-imagine the public policy response to violence under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. He was the Vice Chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on the causes and consequences of high incarceration rates in the United States. He is the author of Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (Russell Sage Foundation, 2018), and Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar, and a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. Western received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was born in Canberra, Australia.
About the Speakers:
Adam Reich is an associate professor of Sociology at Columbia Univeristy. He received his PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley in 2012, and was a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at Columbia from 2012 to 2014. He focuses on economic and cultural sociology. Much of his research concerns how people make sense of their economic activities and economic positions within organizations. Reich is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States (Princeton, 2014). He is also the author of several peer-reviewed articles, which have appeared in journals such as the American Journal of Sociology and Social Science & Medicine.
Ronald B. Mincy is the Maurice V. Russell Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice, and director of the Center for Research on Fathers, Children, and Family Well-Being at Columbia University. He is a co-principal investigator of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and a faculty member of the Columbia Population Research Center. Dr. Mincy came to Columbia in 2001 from the Ford Foundation, where he served as a senior program officer and worked on issues including improving U.S. social welfare policies for low-income fathers, especially child support and workforce development. He also served on the Clinton Administration’s Welfare Reform Task Force. Dr. Mincy is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, and is the editor of Black Males Left Behind (The Urban Institute Press, 2006). In 2009, he received the Raymond Vernon Memorial Prize for Best Research Article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Dr. Mincy is an advisory board member for the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, the Technical Work Group for the Office of Policy Research and Evaluation, the Transition to Fatherhood project at Cornell University, the National Fatherhood Leaders Group, the Longitudinal Evaluation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and The Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Dr. Mincy is a former member of the National Institute of Child and Human Development council, the Policy Council, and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. He served as co-chair of the Grantmakers Income Security Taskforce and as a board member of the Grantmakers for Children, Youth, and Families. Dr. Mincy holds an AB from Harvard College and a PhD from MIT.
DeAnna Hoskins is President of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA). Dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in #halfby2030, JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. Ms. Hoskins has been committed to the movement for justice, working alongside people impacted by incarceration for nearly two decades. She leads with her own life experience having been directly impacted by the system of incarceration and the war on drugs. Ms. Hoskins has been a part of JLUSA’s national alumni network since 2016, as a Leading with Conviction Fellow. She came to JLUSA from the Department of Justice where she worked as a Senior Policy Advisor (Corrections/Reentry) for the Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance during the Obama administration. Prior to joining the DOJ, Ms. Hoskins was the founding Director of Reentry for Ohio’s Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners. Ms. Hoskins is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati and a Bachelors of Social Work from the College of Mount St. Joseph.
Shamus Khan, Chair and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University: My work is primarily within the areas of cultural sociology and stratification, with a strong focus on elites. I am the author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton 2011); The Practice of Research (Oxford 2013, with Dana Fisher), and am completing Exceptional: The Astors, Elite New York, and the Story of American Inequality (Princeton, forthcoming). With Dorian Warren, I am the director of a Russell Sage Foundation working group on “The Political Influence of Economic Elites;” I also serve as the principal investigator on a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation project using the New York Philharmonic archives to uncover the character of their subscribers from the 1870s-present. In addition to my primary focus, I also write in the areas of gender theory, deliberative politics, and research methodology. I recently served as an opinion columnist for Time Magazine and continue to write about sociology in the popular press.