Mass Imprisonment and Racial Inequality in Childhood Mental Health

Sara Wakefield, University of California, Irvine

This paper describes how much mass imprisonment could have increased racial disparities in children’s behavioral problems. In order to do so, I integrate results from two existing studies in a novel way. The first study uses contemporary, broadly representative surveys to estimate the effects of paternal incarceration on a range of child behavioral and mental health problems. Results suggest that having a father incarcerated has negative effects on children’s behavioral and mental health problems. The second study estimates the risk of paternal imprisonment for black and white children born in 1978 and 1990. The findings show that mass imprisonment may have increased black-white inequities in externalizing behaviors by 25 percent and internalizing behaviors by 45 percent.

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Presented in Session 142: The Demographic Effects of Racial and Ethnic Differences in Incarceration Rates