Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Crime and Justice 38:4 (2015), pp 508–521.

doi 10.1080/0735648X.2014.969293


Copyright © 2014 Midwestern Criminal Justice Association; published by Routledge/Taylor&Francis. Used by permission.


The United States correctional system relies heavily on citizen volunteers, but there is little contemporary research on prison volunteers, which is further limited by sample and geographic region. The purpose of this project was to explore the role of citizen volunteers, including investigating why they volunteer and what their experiences with inmates and prison staff are like. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with citizen volunteers in the penal system of a Midwestern state. Volunteers had altruistic or faith-based motivations, viewing themselves as ‘seed planters’ but not saviors, and placing priority on building relationships. They described how volunteering transformed their views on inmates and the prison system. Volunteers appeared to gain awareness of and appreciation for the problems associated with both serving time and reentry. Additional research on the role of citizen volunteers is needed to improve recruiting and retention of volunteers, and to better evaluate and develop programs for current and reentering inmates.