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The Pains of Permanent Imprisonment: findings from a Sample of Life Without parole Inmates

Faculty Mentor: Margaret Leigey

Student: Michael Ryder

Throughout this summer, Dr. Margaret E. Leigey and her student collaborator, Michael Ryder, a senior Criminology major, collaborated on an exploratory study examining the “pains of imprisonment” (Sykes, 1958) for life without parole inmates. Using qualitative and quantitative data, the purpose of the study was to determine if differences existed in the perceptions of the most and least difficult aspects of confinement of LWOP inmates as compared to long-term inmates.

Dr. Leigey began the research by sampling eighteen older male LWOP inmates in a Mid-Atlantic State prison. Each inmate was interviewed by Dr. Leigey and presented with twenty problems related to long-term imprisonment. Respondents were asked to rank the frequency, intensity, and dependency of each problem. A variety of non-parametric statistical tests were used to analyze the quantitative data. After Dr. Leigey transcribed all the interviews, she and Michael coded the data and identified common themes related to the difficulties associated with incarceration and the sources of support to cope with them.

The present research replicated two earlier studies by Richards (1978) and Flanagan (1980) using the same problem statement instrument and statistical measures to evaluate the pains of imprisonment. The objective was to discover whether the frustrations inmates experienced had remained similar over time or changed due to an evolving prison culture and/or length of time served by inmates. The findings yielded statistically significant results between the most severe and least severe problems facing inmates in all three studies, suggesting a universality of the pains of imprisonment.

The research paper will be submitted for publication in the British Journal of Criminology. The research is believed to contribute to the literature because of the limited knowledge related to the correctional experiences of LWOP inmates. Dr. Leigey and Michael will be presenting their findings at the American Society of Criminology Conference in Chicago this upcoming fall.