Reentry as a Rite of Passage

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142 Citations (Scopus)


Mary Douglas argues that, ‘There are some things we cannot experience without ritual.’ Ex-prisoner reintegration may be one of them. The punishment process involves an inordinate amount of ritual behavior, from the drama of the courtroom to the elaborate de-individuation processes involved in institutionalization. Durkheim argues that these rituals served a distinct purpose for society: engendering social solidarity and shaping penal sensibilities. Like the commission of a crime, the reintegration of the former outcast back into society represents a challenge to the moral order, a delicate transition fraught with danger and possibility. However, unlike punishment, reintegration is not a process characterized by well-orchestrated and familiar rituals. This lack might explain the failings of prisoner reentry in contemporary society. This article reviews the sociological and anthropological literature on rituals, explaining what they are and what they do, focusing in particular on the role of status degradation ceremonies in criminal justice work. Drawing on this literature, the core elements that would be needed to develop rituals of reintegration powerful enough to counteract these degradation effects are discussed, and the potential impact of such hypothetical rituals is explored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-28
Number of pages26
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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