Book Review: Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2014).
Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. Oxford, NY:
Oxford University Press. xiv, 231 pp. $24.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-1906-2459-0.
Reviewed by: Lee Ayers, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817699670
It has become apparent, in the United State s, punishment for committing a crime is paid with time.
Following the numbers is a sobering task, and research reveals that the implementation of Tough
on Crime policies construct a haunting reality for the United States—children with incarcerated
parent(s) are often overlooked or forgotten. The trends miss this very important part of the
equation. Society turns a blind eye on that prison-driven trend. Who are the children of the
incarcerated and what are the risks for growing up with a parent serving time? Even Sesame
Street made an attempt to educate the public while building a connection to children through Alex,
the Muppet with an incarcerated father. Alex introduces children to significant challenges faced by
those who do not have a dad at home. Also joining the cast is Lily. Referred to as the hungry
Muppet, she illuminates the issue of children who live every day with food insecurities. In the era
of using educational programming as a tool for access and connection, the two Muppets reach the
young audience with a message; you are not alone!Yet another aspect that is normal izing the
trends of the mass incarceration cycle.
Perpetuated by the intergenerational inequality of mass incarceration, children of the incarcer-
ated face issues only exacerbated by their status. The equity barriers are deepened by disadvan-
taged urban centers, eroding public school systems, and the long-term hurdles placed on the
children of the poor. Deepening the inequality of complexity is the disproportionate representation
of Black men who are incarcerated. The statistical unveiling of the damages done, and what to do
to modify or correct the problems, is a key focus navigated by the authors. Not every child with an
incarcerated parent will produce the same result; however, the research is clear—parental incar-
ceration makes a bad situation worse for children!Additional mental health and behavioral
problems, increase in risks of homelessness, and serious health risks to include mortality are
disadvantages endured by these children. More troubling still is even if the incarceration rates
shift under new policies such as justice reinvestment, the lingering results of current practices are
yet to be understood.
‘‘Children are resilient,’’ the motto carried by many who believe there is hope for what lies ahead.
When digging into the data too often, the realities are glazed over. The well-being of the child with
an incarcerated parent, for Black-and-White children, is demonstrated with significant differences.
Gaps in behavioral problems, aggressive behaviors, homelessness, and even infant mortality top the
outcome list. These difficulties are not temporary. Risks of conflict, abuse, and neglect by caregivers
are also represented in the data. Referred to as the ‘‘kid effect’’ among the concerns are the shaping
of a lost generation that is now becoming of age.
The future is blurred at best. Focusing on serious violent offenders and separating nonviolent
offenders into a different alternative status could lower the incarceration rates of the future. Justice
reinvestment models support this idea as a path to dramatically reducing incarceration rates—focus
on the crimes against people, not drugs or property. Shifting the focus to ‘‘Smart on Crime,’’ the
data-driven model supports time in the community where offenders reconnect and learn life skills.
Promoting and reinforcing noninstitutional behaviors for a more traditional pathway in life. Con-
necting to day treatment and recovery options found within the place of residence. This approach
offers hope for changing the future of the next generation of children; however, the children
becoming of age who have been severely harmed by parental imprisonment pose a new threat to
Book Reviews 421

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