Literature Review

Literature and Information

This section presents a summary of published research and other sources of information critical in addressing the case study. It presents information summarized in two key thematic areas, mourning in prison, and challenges facing US prison systems.

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Mourning in Prison

The loss of loved ones while in incarceration is a traumatizing experience inherent of the prison experience. Due to the lengthy sentences served in most prison facilities, there is a high possibility of such cases befalling a large section of the inmates. Harner, Hentz, & Evangelista (2011) and Moloney et al. (2009) reckon that at least half of the women in custody lose a loved one and consequently face a period of stress and pain. The study recommends that prison stakeholders devise measures of facilitating the grieving process while behind bars. de Vries (2017) on their part notes that the mere act of incarceration is grievous. It is an assault to both the mind and the body, to the extent that mourning a loved one behind bars causes a pain that is unimaginable. It compounds existing grief hence can break down one’s soul. Masterton (2014) labels mourning behind bars as disenfranchising, demoralizing and extremely agonizing. He reiterates earlier claims that the experience is peculiar and much worse than the mourning of free persons.

Vaswani (2014) carried out a study on 33 young persons who had been incarcerated in a young offender institution. The study unearthed 91% bereavement rate including losses of primary caregivers. The impact of the bereavement was apparent on mental scores, demonstrating the impact of mourning behind bars on mental health. A similar study by Aday & Wahidin (2016) focused on the aged where their experiences with grief and the possibility of dying in prison were explored. The study factored in the emerging trend whereas many prisoners were dying in custody. This meant that mourning was for both bereavement within the prison (loss of incarcerated friends and acquaintances) and outside (loss of kith and kin outside the prison). Generally, the experience was described as extremely painful and unsettling. The presence of chaplains and counselors did little to attenuate the pain. Though Aday & Wahidin (2016) views their role as integral for mental health of the prisoners, the inmates themselves feel that little can be done about the pain of mourning while incarcerated. It is further noted that prisoners desperately need support and help when faced with grief. Failure to provide the same has been blamed for heightened suicides and suicide related behavior. Hales et al. (2014) reckons that bereavement is one of the grievous experiences for which prisoners need support. Without counseling and provision of grieving space, they may sink into depression and even attempt suicide. 

It is apparent that prisoners would love the prospect of honoring their loved ones and die to do so from their confinement. A project by Galloway (2017) featuring students at the University of New Orleans and prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest prison facility in the US revealed as much. The students asked the prisoners to give the names of who, where and story behind those they wanted honored. The aim of the engagement was to honor the deceased on behalf of the incarcerated persons and share pictures of the process with them. The inmates were overjoyed to see album photos of their loved ones while it was clear to the students that losing a loved one while in prison was an extremely painful process. It amplified the pain of separation that often followed the mere act of being incarcerated. A study by Marzano et al. (2016) noted that social isolation was one of the major causes of suicide in prisons. This isolation was increased by the loss of loved ones while in prison as the separation became permanent. There was need to mitigate the effects of isolation and attendant trauma in order to reduce cases of suicide in prisons (Evans, 2007). 

Some states are aware of the importance of letting prisoners attend the funerals of their loved ones or visiting them by the bedside and have consequently come up with enabling legislation. Adcox (2017) gives the example of South Carolina where Governor McMaster signed into law a bill requiring the department of corrections to organize transport and ensure that a patient visits their loved one in their deathbed or at least attends their funeral. There are however conditions to this privilege, with the inmate required to be free of any social risks to the public. This means that such cases are still subject to review by the prison management. Adcox (2017) noted that the practice existed before but ended due to cost reasons. However, issues of inmate fights and deaths from violent behavior prompted a review and new legislation. It was widely agreed that allowing prisoners to mourn their loved ones by attending funerals or visiting them by the bedside would help ease the trauma and reduce the cases of violence. Supiano, Cloyes & Berry (2014) however noted that a large number of prison facilities in the US still did not allow prisoners to attend funerals of their loved ones. They further disallowed hospital visits to loved ones with terminal illnesses and instead approved body viewing in selected cases. Body viewing was however done in the absence of any family member and had to be approved based on a security and safety perspective (Braswell, McCarthy & McCarthy, 2017). 

Interestingly, the issue of live funerals is barely addressed in available literature. This affirms the claim that it is a novel concept more so in the US context. A hint of it is given by Rajavelu (2014) though in the Irish prison system. In this case, it was highlighted that there were plans to provide live funeral services to prisoners who could not attend the funerals of their loved ones for one reason or the other. The article also ponders the feasibility of the arrangement to the US system given that funeral attendance for patients in the country was left at the discretion of prison officers. 

Challenges Facing US Prisons

According to Travis (2005), American prisons are faced with various strategic issues. The foremost of them is repeat offenders who end up back in prison within a short time of release. The reason for this is failure to adapt to the post-prison setting and eventual discomfort with freedom (Lazzarini & Altice, 2000). Lots of these rather peculiar experiences are fueled by the trauma that incarcerated persons undergo while in confinement as well as the element of social isolation. Keeping away from society for a long period makes it hard to be integrated back into it after release. Despite the difficulty in solving such recalcitrant problems in the prison setting, Boin (2001) argues that optimistic leadership can help to turn things around. They argue that it is possible to have purposeful institutional building even in the prison sector albeit only with optimistic leadership. In a similar manner, Jacobs & Olitsky (2003) reiterate the importance of leadership in correctional reform.

Another major challenge in US prisons is violence and gangs. This is especially common in high security and maximum security prisons like USP Terra Haute where death row inmates are found (Kulig, Pratt & Cullen, 2017; Gunn & Taylor, 2014). Having been offered the death sentence, such offenders have nothing else to fear and often resort to perpetrating the worst forms of violence on fellow inmates and the correctional officers in charge of them. Byrne & Hummer (2007) suggest several strategies in dealing with such violence. Among them include transparency and evidence based practice. These methods are capable of dealing with gangs from an institutional standpoint. Also important is the implementation of innovative measures on performance and quality. In this case, prisons should employ marketplace strategies such as quality management and performance measurement. Winterdyk & Ruddell (2010) on the other hand argued that there was no sure strategy of dealing with criminal gangs in prisons rather than seeking to understand the reasons for their emergence and dealing with them from that far. The reasons on the other hand draw back to trauma and negative living environment in the prison setting.

Besides the above challenges, there are also ethical complications in the US prison environment. For instance, Tonry (2013) noted that there are various ethical issues with respect to recidivism such as making predictions on the basis of race. Though the prison population is racially skewed, presenting a certain group of people as more likely to reoffend is an ethical problem. Haney & Zimbardo (1998) argue that ethical issues in the prison environment relate to collection of data for research as well as carrying out capital punishment. It is noteworthy that USP Terra Haute is one of the main capital punishment implementation facilities in the US. Another rather remote ethical issue is highlighted by Shichor (1995) who accuses private prisons for making profit out of punishment. The author suggests that it may be conflicting for private prisons to address correctional goals for prisons. 


Aday, R., & Wahidin, A. (2016). Older Prisoners’ Experiences of Death, Dying and Grief Behind Bars. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice55(3), 312-327.

Adcox, S. (2017). Law Lets Inmates Go to Loved One’s Funeral or Death Bed. Associated Press

Boin, A. (2001). Crafting public institutions: Leadership in two prison systems. Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2017). Justice, crime, and ethics. Taylor & Francis.

Byrne, J. M., & Hummer, D. (2007). Myths and realities of prison violence: A review of the evidence. Victims and Offenders2(1), 77-90.

de Vries, N. (2017). Rebellious Mourning: the collective work of grief. Ak Press

Evans, L. (2007). Locked up, then locked out: Women coming out of prison. Women & Therapy29(3-4), 285-308.

Galloway, H. (2017). Stories from prisons, honoring loved ones. Museums & Social Issues12(1), 46-48.

Gunn, J., & Taylor, P. (2014). Forensic psychiatry: clinical, legal and ethical issues. CRC Press.

Hales, H., Freeman, M., Edmondson, A., & Taylor, P. (2014). Witnessing suicide-related behavior in prison: A qualitative study of young male prisoners in England. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention35(1), 10.

Haney, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1998). The past and future of US prison policy: Twenty-five years after the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist53(7), 709.

Harner, H. M., Hentz, P. M., & Evangelista, M. C. (2011). Grief interrupted: The experience of loss among incarcerated women. Qualitative health research21(4), 454-464.

Jacobs, J. B., & Olitsky, E. (2003). Leadership & (and) Correctional Reform. Pace L. Rev.24, 477.

Kulig, T. C., Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2017). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: A case study in organized skepticism. Journal of Criminal Justice Education28(1), 74-111.

Lazzarini, Z., & Altice, F. L. (2000). A review of the legal and ethical issues for the conduct of HIV-related research in prisons. AIDS & public policy journal15(3-4), 105-135.

Marzano, L., Hawton, K., Rivlin, A., Smith, E. N., Piper, M., & Fazel, S. (2016). Prevention of suicidal behavior in prisons. Crisis.

Masterton, J. (2014). A confined encounter: the lived experience of bereavement in prison. Bereavement Care33(2), 56-62.

Moloney, K. P., van den Bergh, B. J., & Moller, L. F. (2009). Women in prison: The central issues of gender characteristics and trauma history. Public Health123(6), 426-430.

Rajavelu, T. (2014). Alternatives to Prisoner Release for Funerals. The Funeral Law Blog. Retrieved from 

Shichor, D. (1995). Punishment for profit: Private prisons/public concerns (p. 5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Supiano, K. P., Cloyes, K. G., & Berry, P. H. (2014). The grief experience of prison inmate hospice volunteer caregivers. Journal of social work in end-of-life & palliative care10(1), 80-94.

Tonry, M. (2013). Legal and ethical issues in the prediction of recidivism. Fed. Sent’g Rep.26, 167.

Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. The Urban Insitute.

Vaswani, N. (2014). The ripples of death: Exploring the bereavement experiences and mental health of young men in custody. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice53(4), 341-359.

Winterdyk, J., & Ruddell, R. (2010). Managing prison gangs: Results from a survey of US prison systems. Journal of Criminal Justice38(4), 730-736.

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