The cause, extent and impact of intergenerational incarceration in South Australia will be investigated in the country’s first comprehensive study of the phenomenon by Flinders University criminal justice academic Mark Halsey.
Professor Halsey (pictured) has just secured more than $700,000 from the Australian Research Council’s prestigious Future Fellowship fund to explore the nature and extent of intergenerational incarceration across different ages, races, genders and socio-economic backgrounds.
From 2012 to 2017, Professor Halsey will survey all people, including juveniles, in SA’s custodial facilities on a single day and on the basis of such data conduct 120 interviews across 30 families to discern the scope, origins and impacts of intergenerational incarceration among that cohort.
“Best estimates suggest that about 4 to 5 per cent of all children in Australia and 20 per cent of Indigenous children have a parent incarcerated at any one time,” Professor Halsey said.
“However, we don’t know precisely how far back the problem of intergenerational incarceration reaches nor do we fully understand the social, cultural, educational and economic impact of such,” he said.
“There are particular families whose members turn up in prison time and time again yet there is very little research dedicated to understanding intergenerational incarceration nationally or internationally.
“While this study will have a more concerted focus on traditional familial lineages (for example incarceration of grandfathers, sons and grandsons), it will also look at the way intergenerational incarceration weaves its way across families.
“For instance, there will be people in prison who might say: ‘My dad didn’t go to prison but my uncle or aunt did and that had a profound impact on me’.”
Professor Halsey said the key overall aims of the Generations Through Prison project include development of a national database on intergenerational incarceration and measures to prevent the disproportionate recurrence of incarceration in particular familial lineages.
“Based on my past and current research, I know the juvenile and adult custodial systems capture certain families disproportionately over time,” he said.
“Two of the most important questions which arise from this situation are why does this happen and how might we best intervene?
“It is perfectly possible that incarceration is accepted as the norm in some families – I’m interested in how this fairly fatalistic perspective emerges and what might be done to attenuate the problem.
“At the end of the day I want this research to influence public debate and policy so that efforts can be targeted to help people whose lives are adversely affected by generations of imprisonment.”
Professor Halsey was one of three Flinders researchers to win a 2012 Future Fellowship, an annual program which supports and creates opportunities for highly qualified mid-career researchers.
The trio will share in a pool of $2.18 million over the next five years, with the 2012 round seeing a total 209 Fellowships worth $151 million awarded nationally.