The way society responds to criminality varies. Most of the time, the disadvantages of some of these responses to crime, like imprisonment, outweigh the advantages. (Clear, 2009). It's crucial to develop new policies to deal with the topic of crime in society in order to solve this issue. In this essay, the author responds to different readings that discuss criminology in American and other societies.

The Negative Effects of Prison

The Effects of Prison in Death by a Thousand Cuts

Prison's effects on kids, families, and towns

Clear (2009) argues that imprisonment separates children

from their parents. In some cases, a neighborhood with a large number of ex-convicts is regarded as unsafe. As such, parents will not allow their children to play outside. Incarceration may also lead to break-up of families. It may also affect the community negatively by leading to a rise in levels of crime when a large number of people are released from prisons.

Felony disenfranchisement

Clear (2009) talks of felony disenfranchisement as one of the impacts of incarceration. It is a situation where the government denies some people the right to vote after they are convicted of a criminal offense.

The New Jim Crow

According to Clear (2009), penology can be viewed as the New Jim Crow in the US. The statement is used to describe a situation where penology appears to negatively affect some people, especially African Americans, more than it does others.

The Effects of Penal Incarceration

The profile of the people who are incarcerated

Parke and Clarke-Stewart (2004) address the various impacts of parental incarceration on children. According to Parke and Clarke-Stewart (2004), approximately 1.1 million parents are incarcerated. The parents have about 2.3 million children, who they are separated from. About 90% of the imprisoned parents are fathers. With regards to ethnicity, 47% of the parents are African-Americans, while 29% are white non-Hispanics. Only about 19% of the parents in prison are Hispanics. Approximately 23% of these parents are married, while about 13% have a college diploma (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2004).

The contribution of ex-convicts to their families

Most of the formerly incarcerated parents face a number of challenges during reentry into their family system. According to Parke & Clarke-Stewart (2004), the parents have to start looking for a job and reestablishing their relationships with their families.

Impacts of parental incarceration on children

Incarceration of parents disrupts the lives of the children (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2004). The child is separated from the parent, and may be forced to relocate from their home. Other effects include emotional instability and behavioral problems.

Impact of incarceration on families

Incarceration may lead to separation and divorce, breaking-up the family unit (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2004). It may also lead to increased levels of poverty, especially if the imprisoned parent was the breadwinner.

How current policies contribute to penal harm

Most policies put in place today focus on the parent already in prison. The larger family outside the penal system is left out (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2004). As a result, the gap in the lives led by the incarcerated parent and their families continues to increase.

Reducing Penal Harm

The argument made by the author

Clear (1994) argues that the current penal system in America has a lot of problems. The author argues that to effectively fight crime, one must first understand its dynamics. The current policies put in place to fight crime are flawed considering that they are focus more on punishment (Clear, 1994).

Proposed solution

To address the shortcomings of the current penal system, Clear (1994) proposes a number of solutions. To start with, a new focus on the whole penal system is required. For instance, there is need to shift the focus of the current policy from crime punishment to crime prevention.

The penal system is not a response to crime

Clear (1994) argues that the penal system is not a response to crime. By this, Clear (1994) means that instead of addressing the crime itself, the system focuses on punishing the offender.

Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: A Reaction

In this video, Alexander (2010) argues that the population in the American jails is dominated by African-American males. Compared to other demographic groups, black Americans appear to feature prominently in today’s prisons. The current penal system is similar to the infamous Jim Crow laws that segregated Americans on the basis of their race. For this reason, Alexander (2010) refers to the current penal system as the New Jim Crow. I tend to agree with this argument considering that most of the inmates in our jails are black males. Their number is largely brought about by the government’s fight against drugs. The fight against this crime is largely carried out in poor neighborhoods, which are predominantly black. When these men are released from prison, they tend to reoffend given that they have no jobs, a move that sustains the incarceration cycle.

A Critique of the Penal Harm Theory

One of the weaknesses of the theory is that it focuses more on crime and fails to address other problems affecting today’s society. For instance, the disruption of the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated may be brought about by other factors than crime. Such factors include poverty and policies by the government. Secondly, the theory is sympathetic to the criminal. It fails to fully acknowledge the harm caused by these individuals to the society.

I would pose two questions to the proponent of this theory:

Is it possible that all the measures that are currently put in place to fight crime are harmful?

What is the way forward with regards to our current penal system?


Society reacts to crime in different ways. One of the reactions involves incarceration of the offender. However, this way of dealing with crime appears to do more harm than good to the society. It leads to family break-ups, increased levels of crime, and discrimination. In light of this, it is important to revisit the policies formulated to fight crime with the aim of increasing their efficacy.


Alexander, M. (2010, March 11). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

Clear, T. (1994). Harm in American penology: Offenders, victims, and their communities. New York: State University of New York Press.

Clear, T. (2009). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parke, R., & Clarke-Stewart, K. (2004). The effects of parental incarceration on children: Perspectives, promises, and policies. In J. Travis & M. Waul (Eds.), Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities (189-232). New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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