Mass Imprisonment and Racial Disparities in Childhood Behavioral Problems

Publication Date: 
August 2011
Criminology and Public Policy, Volume 10, Issue 3, pages 793–817

Sara Wakefield

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The sevenfold increase in the incarceration rate between the early 1970s and 2010 is implicated in race differences in, among others, health (Massoglia, 2008), marriage rates (Western and Wildeman, 2009), earnings (Western, 2006), and civic engagement (Manza and Uggen, 2006). In this article, we suggest that the prison boom also likely transfers some share of these disparities to the next generation. More than 3% of the adult population in the United States is under correctional supervision (Glaze and Bonczar, 2009; Sabol, West, and Cooper, 2009), and roughly the same percentage of children have a parent incarcerated on any given day (Western and Wildeman, 2009: 236), with the number of children experiencing parental incarceration at some point during childhood much larger (Western and Wildeman, 2009Wildeman, 2009). As with incarceration more generally, the likelihood of experiencing parental incarceration at any point in childhood is staggeringly disparate with respect to parental race and educational attainment.