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 Professor of Sociology and co-director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University. He received his BA from the University of Queensland, Australia, and his PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Western's research examines trends in American economic inequality and the growth of the US penal population. These topics are joined by an interest in the shifting landscape of American poverty over the last 40 years. He is the author of Punishment and Inequality in America (2007) and served as Vice-Chair of a consensus panel of the National Academy of Sciences on the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration in the United States. His new book is called Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (2018). Western is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Fellow, and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Science and the National Academies of Science.
About the Speakers:
Shamus Khan: 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.
Adam Reich 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. 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), an organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030 with offices in NYC and Washington DC.