Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Native American men and women are overrepresented in the criminal justice system , including arrests, convictions, and incarceration , which means their children are also disproportionately affected. Although these disparities often motivate research on the consequences of incarceration for children and families, studies that explicitly engage with the dynamics of race/ethnicity and the criminal justice system are rare. In this chapter, we review quantitative and qualitative research that takes on the important task of understanding how parental criminal justice involvement interacts with race/ethnicity to shape children ’s life experiences. We first summarize statistics on racial /ethnic disparities in the criminal justice involvement of parents. We then review research that examines whether the impact of parental criminal justice involvement varies by race/ethnicity and perspectives on why differences in the consequences may exist. Next, we consider how these disparities contribute to overall inequalities in child well-being. We consider a range of social outcomes and domains, from infant mortality to physical health and problems at school as well as avenues for future research on race/ethnicity and criminal justice system contact .
- Mass incarceration
- Racial/ethnic disparities
- Parental incarceration
- Child well-being
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Asian individuals are incarcerated at a lower rate than White individuals. Asians tend to be underrepresented in the criminal justice system , but disaggregation by subgroup where possible may reveal some disproportionalities.
Hispanic/Latinx individuals were more accurately represented. They experienced 18% of arrests and constituted 18% of the US population.
To populate Table 4.1, we searched databases across disciplines for empirical research that examined how the impact of criminal justice system involvement might differ for US children from different racial /ethnic groups. All studies that fit these criteria are included in Table 4.1. We limit our review to studies that examine the impact of parental criminal justice involvement on children ages birth to 18. In addition to the studies included in Table 4.1, several studies consider and find racial /ethnic differences in the impact of parental incarceration during childhood and adolescence on young adults (e.g., Foster & Hagan, 2009, 2013; Lee, Porter, & Comfort, 2013).
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.
American Civil Liberties Union. (2014). Racial disparities in sentencing: Hearing on reports of racism in the justice system of the United States. Washington, DC: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf.
Arditti, J. (2012). Parental incarceration and the family. New York: New York University.
Braman, D. (2004). Doing time on the outside: Incarceration and family life in urban America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Carson, A. E. (2018). Prisoners in 2016 (No. NCJ 251149). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p16.pdf.
Craigie, T. L. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on early child behavioral problems: A racial comparison. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 9(3), 179–199.
Christian, J., & Thomas, S. S. (2009). Examining the intersections of race, gender, and mass imprisonment. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 7, 69–84.
Cho, R. M. (2011). Understanding the mechanism behind maternal imprisonment and adolescent school dropout. Family Relations, 60(3), 272–289.
Cho, R. M. (2010). Maternal incarceration and children’s adolescent outcomes: Timing and dosage. Social Service Review, 84(2), 257–282.
Comfort, M. (2007). Punishment beyond the legal offender. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 3, 271–296.
Dallaire, D. H., & Wilson, L. C. (2010). The relation of exposure to parental criminal activity, arrest, and sentencing to children’s maladjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(4), 404–418.
Dallaire, D., Zeman, J., & Thrash, T. (2015). Differential effects of type of children’s contact with their jailed mothers and children’s behavior problems. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention (pp. 23–38). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Dilworth-Anderson, P., Burton, L. M., & Johnson, L. B. (1993). Reframing theories for understanding race, ethnicity, and families. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods (pp. 627–646). New York: Plenum.
Dowd, J. J., & Bengtson, V. L. (1978). Aging in minority populations an examination of the double jeopardy hypothesis. Journal of Gerontology, 33(3), 427–436.
Dunifon, R., & Kowaleski-Jones, L. (2002). Who’s in the house? Race differences in cohabitation, single parenthood, and child development. Child Development, 73(4), 1249–1264.
Durose, M. R., Smith, E. L., & Langan, P. A. (2007). Contacts between police and the public, 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Uniform crime reports: Crime in the United States. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-43.
Fishman, L. T. (1990). Women at the wall: A study of prisoners’ wives doing time on the outside. Albany: State University of New York.
Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2009). The mass incarceration of parents in America: Issues of race/ ethnicity, collateral damage to children, and prisoner reentry. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 623(1), 179–194.
Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2013). Maternal and paternal imprisonment in the stress process. Social Science Research, 42(3), 650–669.
Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2015). Punishment regimes and the multilevel effects of parental incarceration: Intergenerational, intersectional, and interinstitutional models of social inequality and systemic exclusion. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 135–158.
French, L. (2005). Law enforcement in Indian country. Criminal Justice Studies, 18(1), 69–80.
Glaze, L., & Maruschak, L. (2010). Parents in prison and their minor children. Washington DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Goffman, A. (2014). On the run: Fugitive life in an American city. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Grollman, E. A. (2014). Multiple disadvantaged statuses and health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 55(1), 3–19.
Hagan, J., & Dinovitzer, R. (1999). Collateral consequences of imprisonment for children, communities, and prisoners. Crime and Justice, 26, 121–162.
Hagan, J., & Foster, H. (2012a). Children of the American prison generation: Student and school spillover effects of incarcerating mothers. Law & Society Review, 46(1), 37–69.
Hagan, J., & Foster, H. (2012b). Intergenerational educational effects of mass imprisonment in America. Sociology of Education, 85(3), 259–286.
Harris, A. (2016). A pound of flesh: Monetary sanctions as a punishment for the poor. New York: Russell Sage.
Hartney, C., & Vuong, L. (2009). Created equal: Racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Oakland, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Haskins, A. (2014). Unintended consequences: effects of paternal incarceration on child school readiness and later special education placement. Sociological Science, 1, 141–158.
Haskins, A., & Lee, H. (2016). Reexamining race when studying the consequences of criminal justice contact for families. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 224–230.
Jarrett, R. L. (1998). African American mothers and grandmothers in poverty: An adaptational perspective. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29(2), 387–396.
Jones, N. (2009). Between good and ghetto: African American girls and inner-city violence. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
LeBlanc, A. N. (2003). Random family: Love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx. New York: Scribner.
Lee, H., Porter, L. C., & Comfort, M. (2013). Consequences of family member incarceration: Impacts on civic participation and perceptions of the legitimacy and fairness of government. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 651(1), 44–73.
Lin, A. C., & Harris, D. R. (Eds.). (2008). The colors of poverty: Why racial and ethnic disparities persist. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Manza, J., & Uggen, C. (2006). Locked out: Felon disenfranchisement and American democracy. New York: Oxford Univeristy.
Massoglia, M., Firebaugh, G., & Warner, C. (2013). Racial variation in the effect of incarceration on neighborhood attainment. American Sociological Review, 78, 142–165.
Massoglia, M., & Pridemore, W. A. (2015). Incarceration and health. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 291–310.
Mathews, T. J., MacDroman, M. F., & Thoma, M. E. (2015). Infant mortality statistics from the 2013 period linked birth/infant death data set. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(9), 1–28.
Meierhoefer, B. S. (1992). Role of offense and offender characteristics in federal sentencing. Southern California Law Review, 66(1), 367–404.
Mineka, S., & Kihlstrom, J. F. (1978). Unpredictable and uncontrollable events: A new perspective on experimental neurosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87(2), 256–271.
Minton, T. D., Brumbaugh, S., & Rohloff, H. (2017). American Indian and Alaska natives in local jails, 1999–2014 (No. NCJ 250652). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
Murray, J., Loeber, R., & Pardini, D. (2012). Parental involvement in the criminal justice system and the development of youth theft, marijuana use, depression, and poor academic performance. Criminology, 50(1), 255–302.
National Research Council. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. In J. Travis, B. Western, & S. Reburn (Eds.), Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Pager, D. (2003). The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of Sociology, 108(5), 937–975.
Patten, E., & Krogstad, J. M. (2015, July 14). Black child poverty rate holds steady, even as other groups see declines. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/14/black-child-poverty-rate-holds-steady-even-as-other-groups-see-declines/.
Pettit, B., & Sykes, B. (2017). Incarceration. In Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (Ed.), Pathways magazine.
Pettit, B., Sykes, B., & Western, B. (2009). Technical report on revised population estimates and NLSY79 analysis tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151–169.
Poehlmann, J. (2005). Children’s family environments and intellectual outcomes during maternal incarceration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(5), 1275–1285.
Poehlmann-Tynan, J., & Arditti, J. A. (2018). Developmental and family perspectives on parental incarceration. In C. Wildeman, A. R. Haskins, & J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Eds.), When parents are incarcerated: Interdisciplinary research and interventions to support children (pp. 53–82). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Poehlmann, J., Shlafer, R. J., Maes, E., & Hanneman, A. (2008). Factors associated with young children’s opportunities for maintaining family relationships during maternal incarceration. Family Relations, 57(3), 267–280.
Rehavi, M. M., & Starr, S. B. (2014). Racial disparity in federal criminal sentences. Journal of Political Economy, 122(6), 1320–1354.
Rios, V. (2011). Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino boys. New York: New York University Press.
Roettger, M. E., & Boardman, J. D. (2012). Parental incarceration and gender-based risks for increased body mass index: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the United States. American Journal of Epidemiology, 175(7), 636–644.
Roettger, M. E., & Swisher, R. R. (2011). Assocations of fathers’ history of incarceration with sons’ delinquency and arrest among Black, White, and Hispanic males in the United States. Criminology, 49(4), 1109–1147.
Ross, L. (1998). Inventing the savage: The social construction of Native American criminality. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Schwartz-Soicher, O., Geller, A., & Garfinkel, I. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on material hardship. Social Services Review, 85(3), 447–473.
Shlafer, R. J., Poehlmann, J., & Donelan-McCall, N. (2012). Maternal jail time, conviction, and arrest as predictors of children’s 15-year antisocial outcomes in the context of a nurse home visiting program. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41(1), 38–52.
Siegel, J. (2011). Disrupted childhoods: Children of women in prison. New Brunswick, MJ: Rutgers University Press.
Spohn, C. (2014). Racial disparities in prosecution, sentencing, and punishment. The Oxford handbook of ethnicity, crime, and immigration, 166–193.
Stack, C. (1974). All our kin. New York: Basic Books.
Swisher, R. R., & Roettger, M. E. (2012). Father’s incarceration and youth delinquency and depression: Examining differences by race and ethnicity. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 22(4), 597–603.
Swisher, R. R., & Waller, M. R. (2008). Confining fatherhood: Incarceration and paternal involvement among nonresident White, African American, and Latino Fathers. Journal of Family Issues, 29(8), 1067–1088.
Sykes, B. L., & Pettit, B. (2014). Mass incarceration, family complexity, and the reproduction of childhood disadvantage. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654(1), 127–149.
Sykes, B. L., & Pettit, B. (2015). Severe deprivation and system inclusion among children of incarcerated parents in the United States after the great recession. RSF, 1(2), 108–132.
Turney, K., & Haskins, A. (2014). Falling behind? Children’s early grade retention after paternal incarceration. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 241–258.
Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2017). Maternal incarceration and the transformation of urban family life. Social Forces, pp. 1–27.
Urbina, M. G. (2012). Hispanics in the U.S. criminal justice system: The new American demography. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Wacquant, L. (2000). The New ‘Peculiar Institution’. Theoretical Criminology, 4(3), 377–389.
Wakefield, S., Lee, H., & Wildeman, C. (2016). Tough on crime, tough on families? Criminal justice and family life in America. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 8–21.
Wakefield, S., & Uggen, C. (2010). Incarceration and stratification. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 387–406.
Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2011). Mass imprisonment and racial disparities in childhood behavioral problems. Criminology and Public Policy, 10(3), 793–817.
Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. New York: Oxford University.
Wang, Y., & Beydoun, M. A. (2007). The obesity epidemic in the United States—Gender, age, socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and geographic characteristics: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Epidemiologic Reviews, 29(1), 6–28.
Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage.
Wildeman, C. (2009). Parental imprisonment, the prison boom, and the concentration of childhood disadvantage. Demography, 46(2), 265–280.
Wildeman, C. (2010). Paternal incarceration and children’s physically aggressive behaviors: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study. Social Forces, 89(1), 285–309.
Wildeman, C. (2012). Imprisonment and infant mortality. Social Problems, 59(2), 228–257.
Wildeman, C. (2014). Parental incarceration, child homelessness, and the invisible consequences of mass imprisonment. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 651(1), 74–96.
Wildeman, C., & Muller, C. (2012). Mass imprisonment and inequality in health and family life. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 8(1), 11–30.
Wildeman, C., Schnittker, J., & Turney, K. (2012). Despair by association? The mental health of mothers with children by recently incarcerated fathers. American Sociological Review, 77, 216–243.
Wildeman, C., & Turney, K. (2014). Positive, negative, or null? The effects of maternal incarceration on children’s behavioral problems. Demography, 51(3), 1041–1068.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2019 Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Bruns, A., Lee, H. (2019). Racial/Ethnic Disparities. In: Eddy, J., Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (eds) Handbook on Children with Incarcerated Parents. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-16707-3_4
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-16706-6
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-16707-3