University of Illinois at Chicago

File(s) under embargo





until file(s) become available

Families of Juvenile with Life Sentence: Advocacy and Support in a Changing Policy Landscape

posted on 2022-08-01, 00:00 authored by Zixiaojie Yang
Recent policy trends in the juvenile justice system emphasize distinguishing juveniles from adults and focused on severe punishment. Although numerous studies have highlighted the impact of harsh punishment and incarceration on families, current research has largely failed to document the experience of families of individuals with a juvenile life without parole sentence (JLWOP). My dissertation explored how families of juvenile lifers cope with juvenile incarceration and the evolving policy landscape and how and why families engage in system reform efforts. I examined my research questions using a case study methodology with a qualitative approach. Nine participants were recruited from a mutual aid community-based group whose members are the families of individuals with a JLWOP. The inquiry was guided by the radical healing and mutual aid frameworks. Each participant was interviewed twice to gather their experience interacting with the justice system and their participation in the advocacy work. In addition, field observation took place in the group activities, including monthly meetings, online training, and advocacy events. The documents related to participants' loved ones' cases and local political efforts were reviewed. Data were analyzed with deductive coding guided by the conceptual frameworks and inductive coding guided by Braun and Clarke's (2006) thematic analysis framework. The results highlighted the social toxins around families of incarcerated people, the unique role of community building and the mutual aid group, and the process of radical healing as family members develop critical consciousness and engage in civic actions. As a group, families were able to identify how the justice system established barriers purposefully in preventing incarcerated people from receiving social support and the steps they can take to make a political change. As a result, families gain power and control of their life situations and acquire tools to resist systematic oppression. This study filled the research gap on the impact of long-term incarceration on families. It also identified the role of community organizing and mutual aid groups for a marginalized population and discussed mutual aid groups as a potential intervention. Last but not least, my dissertation showcased the importance of directly impacted individuals in leading social justice efforts.



Gottlieb, Aaron


Gottlieb, Aaron


Jane Addams College of Social Work

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Hsieh, Chang-ming Flynn, Kalen McCoy, Henrika Kim, Sage J.

Submitted date

August 2022

Thesis type



  • en

Usage metrics


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager