Nearly half of African-American women know someone in prison

June 12, 2015

African-American adults -- particularly women -- are much more likely to know or be related to someone behind bars than whites, according to the first national estimates of Americans' ties to prisoners.

The research, led by Hedwig Lee, University of Washington associate professor of sociology, reveals the racial inequality wrought by the U.S. prison boom, with potentially harmful consequences to families and communities left lacking social supports for raising children and managing households.

In an article published May 20 in the Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, Lee and co-authors analyzed data from the 2006 General Social Survey, which involved about 4,500 respondents. They studied blacks and whites' self-reported ties to acquaintances, family members, neighbors or people they trust in state or federal prison.

The data tell a grim story:The authors note that while research has considered the cause of the 'prison boom' and its effect on crime rates and on those imprisoned, the 'spillover effects' of that imprisonment trend have been elusive until now.

Lee said, 'Our results extend previous research on connectedness to show just how pervasive contact with prisoners is for Americans, especially black women. We make visible a large group of women dealing with the consequences of having a family member in prison. Mass imprisonment has reshaped inequality not only for those in prison, but also for those intimately connected to them.'

The researchers write in the paper that it is likely that mass imprisonment has reshaped inequality, not only for the men 'for whom imprisonment has become so common,' but also for their families, friends, neighbors and confidants 'who bear the stigma of incarceration along with them.'

Co-author Christopher Wildeman of Cornell University said the estimates show deeper racial inequities in connectedness to prisoners than implied by previous work.

'Because imprisonment has negative consequences not only for the men and women who cycle through the system but also for the parents, partners and progeny they leave behind,' Wildeman said. 'Mass imprisonment's long-term consequences of racial inequity in the United States might be even greater than any of us working in this area had originally suspected.'

In the past four decades, the U.S. incarceration rate has soared to the highest in the world. According to recent estimates, the U.S. imprisonment rate is 716 per 100,000 individuals, outpacing repressive nations such as Russia and well beyond other developed countries. Currently, one in every 15 adult black men is behind bars, compared to one in every 106 adult white men.

Lee said for future research along these lines, the team would like to examine how connections to prisons vary not only by race and gender, but also by class.

Other co-authors are Tyler McCormick, a UW professor of statistics and of sociology, and Margaret Hicken at the University of Michigan. The study was unfunded.
-end-
Adapted from a release by Ted Boscia of Cornell University. For more information, contact Lee at 206-543-4572 or hedylee@uw.edu.

University of Washington

Related Prison Articles from Brightsurf:

Providing child support after prison: Some state policies may miss the mark
Many states have policies that attempt to help formerly incarcerated people find work by limiting an employer's ability to access or use criminal records as part of the hiring process.

Study: Visitor's garden is improving prison visitation experience for all
New research shows that a visitor's garden designed and built by Iowa State University students and incarcerated individuals at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women is helping to strengthen connections between the women and their children.

Leaving care of the children's home -- for prison?
When 18-year-old youths transition out of children's homes, what crimes do they commit?

Glaucoma care in prison inmates
Data fromĀ 82 prison inmates treated in a glaucoma clinic at an academic hospital were used in this observational study to report on how treatment and follow-up, including medication adherence, were are managed.

Solitary confinement significantly increases post-prison death risk
Even just a few days of solitary confinement may significantly increase inmates' risk of death after serving their sentences.

40% of people did not visit a family doctor after being released from prison
A new study analyzing the experiences of people released from provincial prison in Ontario in 2010 has found that 60% of people who were in Ontario's prison system were seen by a family doctor in the two years after being released from prison compared to 85% of people in the general population.

Restrictive housing is associated with increased risk of death after release from prison
A new study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that being held in restrictive housing (i.e., solitary confinement) is associated with an increased risk of death after a person is released from prison.

Combating prison recidivism with plants
The United States currently incarcerates the greatest percentage of its population compared with any other nation in the world.

Prison-based college presents challenges, but can succeed, study finds
Interest in prison-based education has grown in recent years as an approach to reduce recidivism and improve the future of people who are incarcerated for crimes.

Prison tobacco ban significantly reduces secondhand smoke
Levels of secondhand smoke in Scotland's prisons fell by more than 80% in the week after smoking was banned, according to new University of Stirling research.

Read More: Prison News and Prison Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.