• Article

In the tube at San Quentin: The “secondary prisonization” of women visiting inmates

Through the imprisonment of their kin and kith, mass incarceration brings millions of women—especially poor women of color—into contact with the criminal justice system. These women experience restricted rights, diminished resources, social marginalization, and other consequences of penal confinement, even though they are legally innocent and reside outside the prison’s boundaries. This article draws on field observations in the visitor waiting area at California’s San Quentin State Prison and interviews with fifty women whose partners are incarcerated to illuminate one facet of the regulation and distortion of women’s lives that occurs due to the detainment of their family members, lovers, and friends behind bars: the experience of visiting an inmate in a correctional facility. An extension of Sykes’s classic analysis of the “pains of imprisonment” to the experiences of prison visitors suggests that women experience a form of “secondary prisonization” through their sustained contact with the correctional institution.


Comfort, M. (2003). In the tube at San Quentin: The “secondary prisonization” of women visiting inmates. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 32(1), 77-107. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891241602238939

DOI Links