In this video, sociologist Lynne Haney offers a sneak peek at her book, Prisons of Debt: The Afterlives of Incarcerated Fathers.

“Prisons of Debt is a compelling and devastating account and a must-read for students of punishment and beyond.

—Sandra Susan Smith, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice and Faculty Chair for the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School

This is a book of immense importance about the criminalization of poverty. Throwing poor people into debtors’ prisons for their inability to pay child support is unconscionable, but as Haney tells us in this timely, pressing book, all too common.

—Stephen Bright, Yale Law School,​ and former Director, Southern Center for Human Rights

In the first study of its kind, sociologist Lynne Haney travels into state institutions across the country to document the experiences of the millions of fathers cycling through the criminal justice and child support systems. Prisons of Debt shows how these systems work together to create complex entanglements—rather than “piling up” in men’s lives, these entanglements form feedback loops of disadvantage. The prison–child support pipeline flows in both directions, deepening parents’ debt and criminal justice involvement.

Through moving accounts of men struggling to be fathers from behind prison walls and under the weight of support debt, Prisons of Debt exposes how the criminalization of child support undermines the most essential of familial relationships. Haney argues that these state systems can end up producing exactly the kind of parent they fear and loathe: bitter, unreliable, and cyclical fathers. Based on observations of 1,200 child support cases and interviews with 145 indebted fathers in New York, California, and Florida, Prisons of Debt reveals the actual practices of child support adjudication and enforcement alongside the lived realities of fathers trapped in those systems. The result is a rigorously documented analysis of how poor men are too often denied their rights of citizenship and of fatherhood.

Lynne Haney is Professor of Sociology at New York University and author of the award-winning books Offending Women and Inventing the Needy. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Fulbright New Century Scholars Program.

This post is part of our #ASA2022 blog series. During the conference, get 40% off the book with code 22E7905.