Social Symbols, Stigma, and the Labor Market Experiences of Former Prisoners

Owens Jr., Carl D.
December 2009
Journal of Correctional Education;Dec2009, Vol. 60 Issue 4, p316
Academic Journal
Can college participation have any meaningful effects for former prisoners, beyond quantifiable measures of recidivism and income? Although stigma, overt discrimination, and a shrinking low-skilled labor market form notable challenges to reentry, some studies suggest that college experience helps former prisoners successfully avoid recidivism. Nevertheless, scholars continue to debate how college may work as a mechanism for reducing criminal activity. Proposing that college increases former prisoners' access to mainstream opportunities and holds particular implications in the labor market; this paper revises Lofland's normal-smith theory to identify a new kind of institution coined: the 'opportunity-smith'. Thematic content analysis of data gathered through interviews with seventeen formerly incarcerated college students suggests that the credentials and skills acquired through college participation help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully face the challenges of reentry.


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