“We’ll make it work”: Navigating surveilled living arrangements after romantic partner incarceration



We use the case of housing insecurity to examine how romantic partner incarceration results in increased and prolonged surveillance of women at home.


Romantic partner incarceration prompts surveillance from the criminal legal system while simultaneously eroding women’s finances, health, and family relationships. Less is known about how these symbiotic harms of romantic partner incarceration enable surveillance beyond the criminal legal system.


We use longitudinal interviews with 35 (previously coresident) romantic partners of incarcerated men, showing how incarceration prompts unwanted moves for partners, how women manage housing insecurity following partner incarceration, and how they become embedded into living arrangements where they are monitored, evaluated, and controlled.


We identify three primary findings. First, women experiencing housing insecurity after romantic partner incarceration relied heavily on their social ties (and, to a lesser extent, institutional housing providers) while enduring stressful and prolonged housing searches. Second, the homes that women move into expose them to increased surveillance. Women encounter domestic, caregiving, romantic, and financial surveillance. Romantic partner incarceration prompts large changes in surveillance among women who left independent homes, moderate changes in surveillance among women who left comparatively desirable doubled-up homes, and prolonged surveillance among nonmovers. Finally, women respond to surveillance by monitoring burdens on hosts and reframing stays in shared homes as temporary.


Taken together, these findings extend prior research on the symbiotic harms of romantic partner incarceration, how women attached to incarcerated men experience surveillance, and how doubled-up families sustain shared homes.

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