UC Irvine Professor Kristin Turney Lectures on Anticipatory Stress Among Incarcerated Individuals


University of California, Irvine Sociology professor Kristin Turney discussed the prevalence and implications of anticipatory stress among incarcerated individuals at a lecture hosted by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies Thursday.

The lecture — titled “‘The Waiting Game’: The Pervasiveness and Proliferation of Anticipatory Stress During Jail Incarceration” — is part of the Social Demography Seminar series, which investigates the mutual impacts of various social factors and issues on population processes.

Turney began her talk by noting the prevalence and expansion of the United States incarceration system.

“As a result of the expansion of the criminal legal system over the past half century, approximately five percent of U.S. adults have spent time in prison,” Turney said.


Turney then outlined the known health effects of incarceration on individuals and their families.

Incarcerated people face stress that has “wide ranging deleterious repercussions” on both physical and mental well-being, Turney said. These individuals often experience “unsafe conditions, poor nutrition, and extreme punishment via solitary confinement,” circumstances that result in worse mental health, high rates of infectious disease, and early mortality.

“The stressor of prison incarceration proliferates to family members, impairing the health of children who are children of incarcerated people, romantic partners of incarcerated people, and parents of incarcerated people,” Turney said.

In addition to the adverse mental and physical effects of incarceration, the lecture also discussed its economic burdens.

“They endure economic instability that stems from reduced household income but also costs associated with incarceration — fines and fees, all sorts of costs,” she said. “They incur additional household responsibilities in their family member’s absence and so have to figure out how to fill the responsibilities left behind.”

Turney’s research also suggests that there may be another mechanism causing poor health outcomes among incarcerated individuals.

In collaboration with UC Irvine associate professor Naomi F. Sugie, Turney investigated the role and impact of anticipatory stress, defined as a concern about “conditions that do not yet exist — and may never exist — but are projected to occur sometime in the future.”

According to Turney, anticipatory stress explains a pathway through which “these earlier stages of criminal legal contact can damage health.”

In contextualizing her research, Turney emphasized the discparity between prison incarceration, in which an individual has already been convicted, versus jail incarceration, in which an individual is awaiting adjudication.

“Jail incarceration — and the corresponding questions about charges, adjudication, and sentencing — involves considerable uncertainty about when somebody’s going to be released,” Turney said.

For her research, Turney used interviews of 123 incarcerated individuals and their family members throughout different stages of the jail incarceration process. The study took place in Southern California with predominantly Latino males, their children’s mothers and caregivers, and their own mothers as subjects.

In presenting her findings, Turney discussed the primary causes of anticipatory stress within the individuals interviewed, the most prevalent one of which was the outcome of their adjudication.

“In terms of looking at men’s anticipatory stress, 71 percent of them brought up anticipatory stress about the adjudication of when they’re going to be released, if they’re going to get more charges, what their future is going to look like,” Turney said.

Other causes of anticipatory stress include anxiety over the status of relationships, the well-being of loved ones, and reintegration after release, according to Turney.

In describing individual interviews that were conducted with incarcerated individuals and their families, Turney categorized the cases into three broad categories: shared, emerging, and halted anticipatory stress. Turney defined shared anticipatory stress as stress that is held by both the family and the individual, emerging anticipatory stress as stress held by the family and not the individual, and halted anticipatory stress as stress held by the individual and not the family.

Turney elaborated on emerging anticipatory stress by discussing a causal factor.

“For the most part, men who don’t report anticipatory stress are those who commonly experienced cyclical incarceration — those who turned in and out of jail facilities for many years — suggesting that the accumulation of stressors allows men to adjust to the uncertainty the irrationality the powerlessness that goes along with incarceration,” Turney said.

Anticipatory stress, in which family members do not experience symptoms of stress, was often due to “weak or non-existent relationships with their incarcerated family member,” Turney said.

Turney concluded the lecture by discussing potential policy applications for anticipatory stress research, such as “more speedy and efficient trials” and eliminating “cash bail across the country.”

“It wouldn’t reduce all anticipatory stress because there still would be uncertainty about your sentence,” Turney said. “But it would reduce some other anticipatory stress because people would be with their families doing their quote, unquote, typical life.”