Following the completion of a 10-year longitudinal study of repeat offending and desistance from crime, Professor Halsey decided there was one issue that called for more specific investigation – how people from the same family get caught up in successive cycles of incarceration, release and reincarceration across generations.
Funded by a four-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, the book Generations Through Prison: Lived Experiences of Intergenerational Incarceration, by Professor Halsey and Flinders University colleague Dr Melissa de-Vel Palumbo, offers important signposts for change.
It shows that about one in ten prisoners in South Australia has at least one previously incarcerated parent. More specifically, 240 survey respondents (about 11% of the South Australian prison population at that time) reported two or more successive generations of incarceration, and told of 1,138 additional family members ever having been incarcerated, with 533 family members incarcerated at the time of survey.
Given the voluntary nature of the survey, Professor Halsey believes these figures considerably underestimate the true extent of the problem.
“It’s clearly far more than a peripheral correctional issue,” he says. “Our data shows a significant number of families are tied to this situation and that new approaches are needed to stem the tide of intergenerational incarceration.”
One third of those surveyed reported three or more successive generations of imprisonment, while 40% indicated their family’s history of incarceration had a major effect on, or totally determined, their life.
The extent of intergenerational incarceration for Indigenous prisoners is stark. One third told of 10 or more family member having been incarcerated. Indigenous prisoners were also twice as likely to report three or more generations of incarceration. Such trends have very real consequences for family support following release from custody – especially when so many Indigenous people are dealing with the ongoing effects of colonial-induced trauma and loss, or where orders are in place prohibiting family members from associating with and supporting one another to desist from crime. Tragically, many Indigenous prisoners described prison as a safe place, where their families “catch up” and connect.
Professor Halsey says it is heartening that prisoners agreed to contribute to an area of research that has received little previous attention.