Enhancing Data Driven Research within the Prison System: The true knowledge lies within the individual

One of our missions within the Civic Participation Project is to review the literature that focuses on transition programs for inmates who are coming back into the community. It is clear that there is a vast amount of empirical research showing the positive correlations between these programs and their participant’s ability to gain employment, utilize mental health services, and connect with family members. However, as I sift through the information, it becomes more apparent that this topic often is covered from a very privileged point of view. The research speaks in the form of percentages and numbers when discussing the lived experiences of individuals in an underprivileged position. This type of data driven research is looking to apply quantitative information as proof for improvement, and although this essential in communication about the benefits of transition programs, I also think it is equally as important to speak the truths and stories of the individuals being studied.

Currently, much research is zooming in on the time period in which inmates are three months away from rejoining the community, and following them for approximately three months after leaving the prison system. This six-month gap of time can build a great amount of data and knowledge for the field, and gives evidence as to why these programs are essential for inmates. Along with this, understanding these individual’s complete lived experiences could enhance the data and speak more to why certain communities are more often placed within the prison system than others. Due to race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and many other identities, society functions in a way that places certain populations at a disadvantage in this world. Directing incarceration research to a more participatory form in which we as researchers in our privileged position use this power to speak the narratives of our participants is essential in raising the bar and gaining a better understanding of our social microcosm.

There are many concepts that I envision for future research on this topic:

  1. I hope for researchers to have an understanding of their privileged position as people doing research on other individuals, as well as a general awareness of the identities they have that allow them to function with privilege in the world. This awareness will ideally lead to information being more accessible to people of all backgrounds.
  2. I hope for an increased incorporation of participatory action research methods with this field of research. This would allow for the voice of the individual to be heard. These inmates are the experts of their own experience, and can speak of the direct affect that transition programs have on their lives.
  3. I hope for an integration of quantitative and qualitative research when looking at transition programs for incarcerated individuals. This would allow for researchers to continue gathering data driven research, but also would speak to a greater understanding of the prison system and how society functions around it.
  4. I hope for increased variables within the research that speak to the quality of life and mental health status of the participants.

 

Written by Ranjana Srinivasan Ed.M, MT-BC

Ph.D. Student in Counseling Psychology at Teachers College Columbia University


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