Doing Time on the Outside

Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America
Donald Braman
A compelling account of the unintended social, financial, and personal consequences of incarceration on the families of prisoners


This startling ethnography uncovers the other side of the incarceration saga: the little-told story of the effects of imprisonment on prisoners' families. Since 1970 the incarceration rate in the United States has more than tripled, and in many cities—urban centers such as Washington, D.C.—it has increased over fivefold. But the numbers don't reveal what life is like for the children, wives, and parents of prisoners, or the subtle and not-so-subtle effects mass incarceration is having on inner-city communities. Donald Braman shows that those doing time on the inside are having a ripple effect on the outside—reaching deep into the family and community life of urban America. He offers fresh insights into how criminal justice policies are furthering, rather than abating, the problem of social disorder. Drawing on a series of powerful family portraits supported by extensive empirical data, Braman shines a light on the darker side of a system that is failing the very families and communities it seeks to protect.

Jacket art: Baby on a Bus; painting by Horace Crenshaw

Donald Braman is Associate Professor of Law at George Washington University. This is his first book.

Praise / Awards

  • "Stigma, shame and hardship—this is the lot shared by families whose young men have been swept into prison. Braman reveals the devastating toll mass incarceration takes on the parents, partners, and children left behind."
    —Katherine S. Newman

  • "Doing Time on the Outside brings to life in a compelling way the human drama, and tragedy, of our incarceration policies. Donald Braman documents the profound economic and social consequences of the American policy of massive imprisonment of young African American males. He shows us the link between the broad-scale policy changes of recent decades and the isolation and stigma that these bring to family members who have a loved one in prison. If we want to understand fully the impact of current criminal justice policies, this book should be required reading."
    —Mark Mauer, Assistant Director, The Sentencing Project

  • ". . . a valuable descriptive contribution to the long-neglected study of the impact of incarceration on families."

  • "Through compelling stories and thoughtful analysis, this book describes how our nation's punishment policies have caused incalculable damage to the fabric of family and community life. Anyone concerned about the future of urban America should read this book."
    —Jeremy Travis, The Urban Institute

  • "Social scientists and other commentators have been writing for a century or more about the human costs of incarceration. They are speaking, of course, of the effects of prisons on convicts. But Donald Braman makes clear in this remarkable study that the real costs of locking people away are paid by innocents who remain outside prison walls—the children who go without fathers, the families that go without support, the neighborhoods that go without hope. Indeed, the sins of the few are visited on a whole class of people in the American urban landscape, so much so that one might well wonder who is being punished here and why. This is a compelling, important, and in every sense of the term a wonderful book."
    —Kai Erikson, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Sociology and American Studies at Yale

  • "In Doing Time on the Outside, Donald Braman explores the often-overlooked consequences of incarceration upon the families and communities of offenders. Combining an array of empirical data with personal accounts from incarcerated offenders and their relatives, Braman offers a comprehensive view of the situation."
    —Courtney McBride,

Look Inside


Introduction     1

Part I. What Went Wrong?     13
Chapter 1. A Public Debate     15
Chapter 2. "It's a Mess What's Happened"     20
Chapter 3. The Creation of the Ghetto     23
Chapter 4. Incarceration as a Response to Public Disorder     30

Part II. Kinship     37
Chapter 5. On the Ropes: Londa & Derek     41
Chapter 6. Falling Apart: Thelma & David     65
Chapter 7. Pulling Families Apart     89

Part III. Exchange     97
Chapter 8. Arrested: Edwina & Kenny     99
Chapter 9. Doing Time: Lilly & Arthur     113
Chapter 10. Cycling through the System: Zelda & Clinton     135
Chapter 11. Material and Social Consequences     154

Part IV. Silence     165
Chapter 12. Missing the Mark: Louisa & Robert     169
Chapter 13. Problems at Home: Constance & Jonathan     177
Chapter 14. Work Worries: Tina & Dante     188
Chapter 15. Depression and Isolation: Robin & Aaron     195
Chapter 16. Coping: Murielle & Dale     200
Chapter 17. Faith and Church: Dolores & Lawrence     210
Chapter 18. Social Silence     219

Conclusion: Looking Ahead     221
Postscript     225
Appendix: Methodology and Data Sources     227
Acknowledgments     231
Notes     235
Index     267

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 280pp.
  • 20 drawings, 3 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03269-3

Add to Cart
  • $29.95 U.S.

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