Incarceration and Personal Networks: Unpacking Measures and Meanings of Tie Strength

  • Andres F. RengifoEmail author
  • Samuel E. DeWitt
Original Paper



The advent of mass incarceration has reinvigorated calls for a deeper understanding of how the “quality of relationships” is shaped by imprisonment (Travis J, Western B, Redburn S (eds), The growth of incarceration in the United States: exploring causes and consequences, National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2014). We address this issue by describing how imprisonment relates to four dimensions of tie strength in a sample of South Bronx residents.


We draw on a series of survey-based multilevel models to examine how tie strength relates to characteristics of respondents and their self-reported contacts (N1 = 585 ties, N2 = 97 egos) regarding (a) frequency, (b) duration, (c) multiplexity, and (d) reciprocity.


Ties of formerly-incarcerated persons are of shorter duration and exhibit less overlap relative to other respondents. However, markers of general association across the sample to currently/formerly incarcerated persons correlate with alter-ego ties that are more frequent, long-lasting, and multi-dimensional.


There is some support for the notion that direct exposure to incarceration is linked to a weakening of ties akin to a “knifing-off” process (Maruna and Roy, J Contemp Crim Justice 23(1):104–124, 2007). Indirect exposure to incarceration may follow an inverse pattern, strengthening the ties among those “left behind”.


Social networks Mass incarceration Multilevel models Prisoner reentry 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Criminal JusticeRutgers University- NewarkNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologyUniversity of North Carolina - CharlotteCharlotteUSA

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