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EPI - Mass Incarceration and Children's Outcomes, 2016

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Mass incarceration and
children’s outcomes
Criminal justice policy is education policy
Report • By Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein • December 15, 2016

Summary: Parental incarceration leads to an array of cognitive and noncognitive
outcomes known to affect children’s performance in school. Therefore, the discriminatory
incarceration of African American parents makes an important contribution to the racial
achievement gap. Educators hoping to narrow the achievement gap should make
criminal justice reform a policy priority.

• Washington, DC

View this report at


Executive summary
As many as one in ten African American students has an
incarcerated parent. One in four has a parent who is or has
been incarcerated. The discriminatory incarceration of
African American parents is an important cause of their
children’s lowered performance, especially in schools
where the trauma of parental incarceration is concentrated.
In this report, we review studies from many disciplines
showing that parental incarceration leads to an array of
cognitive and noncognitive outcomes known to affect
children’s performance in school, and we conclude that our
criminal justice system makes an important contribution to
the racial achievement gap.
Educators have paid too little heed to this criminal justice
crisis. Criminal justice reform should be a policy priority for
educators who are committed to improving the
achievement of African American children. While reform of
federal policy may seem implausible in a Trump
administration, educators can seize opportunities for such
advocacy at state and local levels because many more
parents are incarcerated in state than in federal prisons. In
2014, over 700,000 prisoners nationwide were serving
sentences of a year or longer for nonviolent crimes. Over
600,000 of these were in state, not federal, prisons.

1. Executive summary • 1
2. Introduction • 2
3. The extent and growth
of mass incarceration
in the United States
4. Racial and social class
differences in
children’s experiences
with parental
incarceration • 7
5. Outcomes for children
of incarcerated
parents • 8
6. Plausible pathways
between parental
incarceration and
negative outcomes for
children • 13
7. Recommendations • 15
8. Conclusion • 17
About the authors • 18
Endnotes • 18

Research in criminal justice, health, sociology,
epidemiology, and economics demonstrates that when
parents are incarcerated, children do worse across
cognitive and noncognitive outcome measures.
Key findings include:
An African American child is six times as likely as a
white child to have or have had an incarcerated
parent. A growing share of African Americans have
been arrested for drug crimes, yet African Americans
are no more likely than whites to sell or use drugs.
Independent of other social and economic
characteristics, children of incarcerated parents are
more likely to:
drop out of school


develop learning disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
misbehave in school
suffer from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and homelessness
Each of these conditions presents a challenge to student performance.
To improve their students’ outcomes, educators should join forces with criminal justice
reformers to:
eliminate disparities between minimum sentences for possession of crack vs. powder
repeal mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses and other nonviolent
encourage President Obama to increase the pace of pardons and commutations in
the final days of his term
increase funding for social, educational, and employment programs for released

Criminal justice policy is education policy.
Several police killings of young men in African American neighborhoods, as well as the
national racial polarization exposed in the recent presidential election campaign, have
brought increased attention to our unresolved racial inequalities, including the
disproportionate numbers of African American men who are in jail or prison.
In the last months of his administration, President Obama has responded to excessive
federal prison sentences with a stepped-up rate of commutations. Since the beginning of
his administration, he has granted over 1,000 sentence commutations (more than his 11
predecessors combined), mostly for nonviolent, victimless drug crimes.1
President-elect Trump, in contrast, has advocated a nationwide policy of “stop-and-frisk,” a
police practice concentrated in low-income minority neighborhoods that invariably leads
to the arrest and eventual imprisonment of men, African American men in particular, for
low-level crimes.
“Stop-and-frisk,” as well as excessive sentencing for minor crimes, are not federal policies,
and, once in office, Mr. Trump will have little influence over them. These are policies and
practices of local and state governments, and reform is no less realistic or urgent now than
it was before the presidential election.


Education policymakers have been concerned with a related problem: the “school-toprison pipeline.” The term refers to the practice of stationing police officers in schools to
arrest children whose offenses once would have been handled by school counselors and
principals without the involvement of the criminal justice system. The term also refers to
harsh and racially disparate school disciplinary policies that include “zero tolerance” and
mandatory suspensions or expulsions for nonviolent infractions. Students who are
arrested by school police, or suspended by school officials, are more likely to later serve
jail or prison time than students with similar offenses who are subject to less harsh forms
of discipline.2
However, even where incarceration does not have roots in school disciplinary problems,
education policymakers and educators in states and localities should pay greater attention
to the mass incarceration of African Americans because student performance is harmed
when parents are caught up in the harsh criminal justice system.
The extraordinary growth in incarceration rates has been extensively described by
scholars as well as in more accessible works such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim
Crow. Our purpose in this report is not to restate these discussions but rather to stress that
mass incarceration is not a criminal justice issue alone. The evidence is overwhelming that
the unjustified incarceration of African American fathers (and, increasingly, mothers as
well) is an important cause of the lowered performance of their children. When parents are
imprisoned, it is not only they who suffer, but also their offspring. The number of children
affected has grown to the point that we can reasonably infer that our criminal justice
system is making an important contribution to the racial achievement gap in both cognitive
and noncognitive skills.a
We have organized this report as follows: First, we report data on the extent, and the
growth over time, of incarceration in the United States; although these data are well
known to advocates of criminal justice reform, educators may not be aware of their full
extent. We then describe the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the prison
population and look at data on the share of children, and of African American children in
particular, who have (or have had) parents in jail or prison. Next, we summarize the
extensive social science and epidemiological literature documenting the effects of
parental incarceration on children’s cognitive and noncognitive development.b The
statistical sophistication of these studies plausibly eliminates the possibility that the
depressed student outcomes are attributable to socioeconomic or demographic
characteristics of the children rather than to their parents’ present or previous

a. In this report, we do not discuss how the enormous financial costs to society of this criminal justice policy
compare with its possible benefits.
b. Some of the studies we review report on the incarceration of parents in general, some report on the
incarceration of fathers, and some report on the incarceration of mothers. Although the vast majority (93
percent) of those in jail or prison are men, there has been an increase in the number of women prisoners as
well (The Sentencing Project 2015, 4; see note 16). Because many more men than women are incarcerated,
many studies focus only on paternal incarceration. The variety in studies we review makes it unavoidable that
this report sometimes refers to parents, sometimes to fathers (or mothers), sometimes to young men,
sometimes to all men, sometimes to arrest rates, sometimes to imprisonment rates, and sometimes to
imprisonment rates of those serving sentences of more than a year.


incarcerations. We then describe the plausible pathways by which parental incarceration
influences children’s development and is an independent cause of the gap in cognitive
and noncognitive outcomes between black and white students. Finally, we summarize
contemporary criminal justice reform efforts and suggest that educators who hope to raise
the achievement levels of disadvantaged children should make such reform of state and
local policies and practices their cause as well.
However implausible reform of federal policy may seem in a Trump administration (and we
hope we are wrong), pursuit of state and local policy reform is likely to have the greatest
impact, as many more parents are incarcerated in state than in federal prisons. In 2014,
over 700,000 prisoners nationwide were serving sentences of a year or longer for
nonviolent crimes. Of these, over 600,000 were in state, not federal, prisons.3 This reality
presents an opportunity, and a necessity, for educators to press for changes in states’
policing and criminal justice policies that will substantially benefit their students.

The extent and growth of mass
incarceration in the United States
The American criminal justice system incarcerates at a rate without equal in the modern
world. In the United States today, there are approximately 700 prisoners per 100,000
residents. The next highest rate is the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan (with
approximately 600), followed by El Salvador and Cuba (500 each) and Thailand (450).
Vladimir Putin’s repressive Russian Federation also imprisons at a rate of 450, while South
Africa, a nation whose racial hierarchy is in some ways similar to our own, imprisons 300,
as does theocratic Iran. Israel, faced with potential uprisings of its Arab minority, imprisons
only 250, as does Turkey. Among other Western industrialized nations, the United
Kingdom (including England and Wales), Spain, and Australia have the highest rates of
incarceration (150), while others–Canada and France, for example—have rates of
around 100 or below. Figure 1 displays incarceration rates for selected countries.4
The U.S. pattern of high incarceration rates is a relatively recent phenomenon. Figure 2
shows that in 1970, the incarceration rate was only 160 per 100,000 residents. It rose to
220 in 1980, to 460 in 1990, and to 690 in 2000; it continued to rise until 2008, when a
slow decline commenced.5
The relationship between crime and incarceration is difficult to pinpoint. Since 1990, crime
rates nationwide have declined steadily.6 From 1990 to 1999, when the incarceration rate
increased by at least 50 percent, both violent and property crimes decreased by about 25
percent.7 There is no scholarly consensus regarding the causes of the decline in crime
during the 1990s, but increased incarceration does not seem to be responsible for more
than a very small share of the decline (perhaps 10 percent), and this small impact has been
almost entirely on a decline in property, not violent, crimes.
In a previous report, we called attention to research attributing a substantial share of the
decline in crime during the 1990s to the removal of lead from gasoline in the 1970s, the


Figure 1

The U.S. incarcerates more of its people than other nations
Approximate number of people in jail or prison per 100,000 population
People in
jail per
United total


United States

El Salvador



El Salvador









Russian Federation




South 450


South Africa
















U.K. (England and Wales)
(England and









Note: Many widely circulated reports provide more specific numbers than the approximate numbers shown here. For
example, commonly reported estimates of current U.S. incarceration rates are 693 and 707 per 100,000. But methodologies vary, and rather than arbitrarily using the specific estimates of only one such report, we use approximate numbers here because it is the magnitude of differences that is important, not the specific estimates.
Source: Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context,” Prison Policy Initiative, 2016

decade in which young men most likely to commit crimes in the 1990s were born.8 (In that
report, we explain that exposure to lead is correlated with cognitive and behavioral
impairment and with increased criminal behavior.) Other likely factors contributing to the
decline in crime during the 1990s include an aging population, decreased alcohol
consumption, improvements in how police deployed resources, income growth, and a
decline in unemployment. Since the year 2000, crime rates have continued to decline, but
incarceration was not a contributing factor in these declines; of the other factors that seem
to have contributed to the decline of crime in the 1990s, none appear to have been
influential since 2000.9


Figure 2

The U.S. incarceration rate has more than quadrupled since
Approximate number of people in jail or prison per 100,000 population

rate per

























Sources: Justice Policy Institute, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, and National Academy of Sciences. See note 5 at the end of this report for complete details.

Offsetting any possible role of current imprisonment levels in preventing serious crime is
the role of prisons in exacerbating it. Whether, on balance, prisons do more to deter than
to breed crime is unknown. Many prisoners are exposed in prison to a more intense
culture of criminality than they had experienced before their incarceration; a criminal
record reduces employability in the legal economy for those released; and imprisonment
tends to sever a prisoner’s ties to noncriminal social networks. Each of these conditions
can increase crime in the long run. In addition, when imprisonment becomes epidemic in
particular communities, its stigma is greatly reduced, normalizing behavior that can lead to
arrest and incarceration.10
The explosion in imprisonment rates has not resulted from rising crime rates. Rather, two
policies have been mostly responsible. One has been an increasingly punitive sentencing
policy, including prison terms for violent crimes that have increased by nearly 50 percent
since the early 1990s. The other has been a declaration by the federal and state
governments of a “war on drugs” that has included severe mandatory minimum sentences
for relatively trivial victimless drug offenses.11 The trend has been exacerbated by the
reimprisonment of released offenders for technical probation violations or for an inability
to pay escalating fines and court fees. Absurdly, while released prisoners are in many
cases excluded—either formally or informally—from employment in the legal economy,
they can be reimprisoned for violating the terms of release by failing to hold a job.
Although increasing rates of imprisonment may have contributed, in small part, to the
decline in serious crime, it is doubtful that imprisonment has any effect on the rate of drug


use. There is no evidence that drug use has declined since the onset of mass
The incarceration explosion is primarily an expression of our race relations and of the
confrontational stance of police toward African Americans in neighborhoods of
concentrated disadvantage. The incarceration rate of middle-class African Americans has
declined and makes no contribution to the rapidly rising rate of incarcerations.
Young African American men are no more likely to use or sell drugs than young white
men, but they are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for drug use or sale; once
arrested, they are more likely to be sentenced; and, once sentenced, their jail or prison
terms are 50 percent longer on average. African American drivers are no more likely than
white drivers to change lanes without signaling, but they are more likely to be stopped by
police for doing so, and, once stopped, they are more likely to be caught up in the penal
system, including jail time for inability to pay fines. The Justice Department’s investigation
of police practices in Ferguson, Missouri, found that African Americans were stopped by
the police more frequently than whites, but of those who were stopped and searched,
more whites were found to be carrying illegal drugs than African Americans.12
During the growth of mass incarceration rates from 1970 to the present, the share of those
arrested for the most violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) who
were African American decreased, while the share of those imprisoned for nonviolent
offenses such as drug use who were African American increased.13
Whites are incarcerated at a rate of approximately 400 per 100,000 white residents, high
by international standards but not the highest. Our ranking as the nation with the mostincarcerated population is attributable primarily to the imprisonment of 2,200 African
Americans per 100,000 African American residents, and to a lesser extent to the Hispanic
imprisonment rate of nearly 1,000.14 Figure 3 describes the racial and ethnic distribution of
incarcerated men (as of 2014).15 Figure 4 describes the likelihood of incarceration for men
in these demographic categories.16

Racial and social class differences in
children’s experiences with parental
By the age of 14, approximately 25 percent of African American children have experienced
a parent—in most cases a father—being imprisoned for some period of time. The
comparable share for white children is 4 percent.17 On any given school day,
approximately 10 percent of African American schoolchildren have a parent who is in jail or
prison, more than four times the share in 1980.18
This growth in the share of African American children suffering from parental incarceration
has in all probability offset many efforts to raise the average achievement levels of these
children during the last 35 years. Although the share of white children with a father in


Figure 3

Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white
Approximate number of men in jail or prison per 100,000 population by race and
ethnicity, 2014














Note: The figure includes only prisoners with sentences of 1 year or more and excludes those awaiting trial and those
with sentences of less than 1 year.
Source: E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2014, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2015,
Table 10

prison has grown comparably (from 0.5 percent to 2 percent), the concentration in lowincome neighborhoods of African American children with imprisoned fathers presents
challenges to teachers and schools unlike those presented by the relatively rare white
child with an imprisoned father.19
Of imprisoned fathers of African American children, only one-third are in prison because of
a violent crime. Another third have been convicted of drug offenses. The remainder have
committed property crimes or technical violations, such as failure to show up for a court
date or probation officer appointment; failure to meet other conditions of release, like
steady employment; or failure (usually from inability) to pay traffic or similar fines.20

Outcomes for children of incarcerated
Children of incarcerated parents suffer serious harm. It is tempting to think that these
consequences are attributes of disadvantaged children, independent of parental
incarceration. But careful studies of the effects on children have accounted for these
attributes. Children of the incarcerated have worse cognitive and noncognitive outcomes


Figure 4

One in three black men will be imprisoned at some point in
their lives
For male U.S. residents born in 2001, chance of imprisonment at some point in their lives,
by race and ethnicity
chance of














Source: Fact Sheet: Trends in U.S. Corrections, The Sentencing Project, 2015

than children with similar socioeconomic and demographic characteristics whose parents
have not experienced incarceration.

Association of parental incarceration with
children’s cognitive outcomes
Children with incarcerated parents are 33 percent more likely to have speech or language
problems—like stuttering or stammering—than otherwise similar children whose fathers


have not been incarcerated.c,21 The grade point averages of children with incarcerated
parents decline.22
It is more common for children of incarcerated parents to drop out of school than it is for
children of nonincarcerated parents, controlling for race, IQ, home quality, poverty status,
and mother’s education.23 This is especially true for adolescent boys between the ages of
11 and 14 with a mother behind bars. Such boys are 25 percent more likely to drop out of
school, and they are 55 percent more likely to drop out of school because they
themselves have been incarcerated.d,24
Children of incarcerated fathers complete fewer years of school than children of
nonincarcerated fathers, controlling for other likely confounding social and demographic
characteristics. The statistical methods used to determine this are sufficiently sophisticated
to suggest that the paternal incarceration itself is the cause of children completing fewer
years of education than children of never-incarcerated fathers.25

Association of parental incarceration with
noncognitive outcomes
Incarceration also hurts children’s noncognitive outcomes. Children of parents who have
been incarcerated are more prone to learning disabilities than are children whose parents
were never behind bars.26
Children with incarcerated parents are 48 percent more likely to have attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than children with nonincarcerated parents. They are 23
percent more likely to suffer from developmental delays. Children with incarcerated
parents, especially sons of incarcerated fathers, are 43 percent more likely to suffer from
behavioral problems. These differences show up in comparisons of otherwise similar
children, even those who experience other disruptive events like parental divorce or

c. Children in the study cited were compared with children who were similar in age; gender; low birth weight;
race; health insurance status; whether the child had seen a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional in
the past year; mother’s age; and parent educational attainment. After parental incarceration, children with and
without incarcerated parents were compared, where households were similar in the following aspects: parents’
biological and marital status; parent employment; parents’ homeownership status; parents’ health; family
income difficulties; whether a household member received welfare; whether a household member received
supplemental nutrition benefits for women and children (WIC); whether the household income was below the
poverty line; whether a household member smoked inside the home; whether the neighborhood was always
safe for children; whether the child lived with a parent or guardian who had gotten divorced after the child was
born; whether the child lived with a parent or guardian who died; whether the child ever saw or heard adults in
the home slap, hit, kick, punch, or beat each other; whether the child had lived with anyone who was mentally
ill, suicidal, or severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks; whether the child had lived with anyone
who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; and the quality of the parent respondent’s relationship with the child
(Turney 2014, 307; see note 21).
d. This study compared siblings who, during their lifetimes, experienced or did not experience maternal
incarceration. It controlled for children’s foster care status and for mothers’ characteristics including race, age
at child’s birth, total number of children, years of education, offense type, receipt of Aid to Families with
Dependent Children or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families between 1990 and 2000, and employment
between 1995 and 2001 (Cho 2010, 264; see note 24).


Figure 5

Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to suffer
from physical and mental health problems
The greater likelihood that children with incarcerated parents will experience physical
and mental health problems

Children with incarcerated fathers
High cholesterol
to other












30% either parent incarcerated
Behavioral problems
to other


Marijuana use




Developmental delays






Marijuana use






22%Luo 2013 (note 27 in this report); Turney 2014 (note 20); Mears and Siennick 2016 (note 27);
Lee, Fang, and
and Aaron and Dallaire 2010 (note 22). For source details, see note 27.


death, and after accounting for other characteristics that are generally understood to
cause learning disabilities.e,27
Figure 5 summarizes studies that describe the increased likelihood that children of
parents who have ever been incarcerated will have various negative outcomes, in
comparison to the likelihood that children of never-incarcerated parents will have them.28
Children of incarcerated fathers suffer from worse physical health: They are a quarter to a
third more likely than children of nonincarcerated fathers to suffer from migraines, asthma,
and high cholesterol.f,29 Their mental health is also worse than that of children of
nonincarcerated fathers. Children of incarcerated fathers are 51 percent more likely to

e. For controls, see note c, above.


suffer from anxiety, 43 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and 72 percent more
likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.g,30 As adults, daughters of parents who
have been incarcerated have a higher body mass index, which is associated with other
health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. For example, a 150-pound, 5-foot
6-inch, 28-year-old woman has a predicted greater weight of 9 pounds if, when she was a
child, her parent was incarcerated.31
Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to engage in behavior that exposes them
to the criminal justice system. For example, they are 43 percent more likely than socially
and demographically similar children of nonincarcerated parents to use marijuana.32 They
are 10 percent more likely to turn to delinquency than children without incarcerated
parents.h,33 And finally, children of incarcerated parents are at greater risk of themselves
being imprisoned (with the risk of incarceration being greatest for children of incarcerated
Children of incarcerated parents lose faith in public institutions. In all but two states,
convicted felons are prohibited from voting while in prison; in some states, ex-felons are
prohibited from voting even after they have served their sentences. In many states, only
gubernatorial or court action can reverse this disenfranchisement.35 Children of parents
who have been incarcerated are, as adults, less likely to vote, less likely to trust the
government, and less likely to engage in community service.i,36

f. These ratios compare children of similar race, grade, gender, family structure, foreign-born status, father’s and
mother’s education, father’s and mother’s alcoholism, family receipt of public assistance, and physical,
emotional, and sexual maltreatment (Lee, Fang, and Luo 2013; see note 28).
g. These ratios compare children of similar race, parental arrest record, parental education, family structure and
receipt of public assistance, closeness to father, history of physical abuse, temperament, and neighborhood
poverty and population density. The participants were studied from grades 7–12 through early adulthood, so
the study could also control for other stressful life events including whether the child of the incarcerated parent
ever ran away from home; was expelled from school; skipped needed health care; was diagnosed with a
sexually transmitted disease; had an unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, or death of a baby; gave a
baby up for adoption; had an infant child with medical problems; suffered relationship abuse; ended a romantic
and/or sexual relationship, marriage, or cohabitation; entered or was discharged from the military; was evicted
from a home; had a utility service cut off; received welfare or was involuntarily cut from welfare; or attempted
suicide. Further controls were added for violence, including whether the child threatened, shot, or stabbed
another person; injured another person in a fight; was jumped, witnessed violence, or was shot or stabbed;
was threatened, raped, or was injured in a fight; or had sex for money. The children of incarcerated parents
were compared with other children with similar experiences with regard to juvenile conviction or detention and
conviction or jail time as young adults. There were also controls for the death of a biological parent, parental
figure, spouse, or romantic partner, and for suicide of a friend or family member. After all this, there remained a
difference in outcomes for children of incarcerated parents (Roettger and Boardman 2012, 639; see note 31).
h. Among other things, these studies controlled for children’s age; gender; parent unemployment; parent drug
use; parent high school completion; single-parent-family status; race; number of other children at home; family
financial problems; family environment, including family organization, cohesion, and conflict; whether anyone in
the child’s family had been a crime victim; and older sibling delinquency (Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1478;
Murray, Loeber, and Pardini 2012, 282; Geller et al. 2009, 1193; see notes 23, 33).
i. Children whose parents had ever been stopped by police or incarcerated were compared with children whose
parents had not had such involvement with the criminal justice system but who were of the same race, age,
and sex and whose parents had similar levels of civic engagement and whose families had had similar receipt
of public assistance in the last 12 months (Lee, Porter, and Comfort 2014, 52; see note 36).


Plausible pathways between parental
incarceration and negative outcomes
for children
Parental incarceration is independently likely to result in worse outcomes for children
because of socioeconomic factors, psychological and family factors, and health factors.

Socioeconomic pathways
Children of incarcerated parents experience more economic instability and are more likely
to become poor.37 Prior to their incarceration, more than half of all inmates were the
primary income providers for their families.38 But prisoners make little or no money, so
incarceration usually means a sharp decline in (or the complete loss of) family income.
Financial distress continues after release from prison because finding a job can be difficult:
a criminal record can formally and informally bar former prisoners from employment.39
Formerly imprisoned African American men without a high school education earn
substantially less than African American men with similarly low educational attainment but
without a criminal record.40
Parent income is a strong predictor of how children will fare in school and, thus, into
adulthood.41 Income losses from incarceration and exclusion from post-incarceration
employment cause multigenerational harm, because income mobility is rare, and it is
especially rare for African Americans.
The United States has less intergenerational mobility than many other industrialized
societies. Of American children born to parents with incomes in the bottom income
quintile, almost half (43 percent) remain trapped in the bottom quintile as adults and only
30 percent make it to the middle quintile or higher. African Americans have even less
mobility. For those born to parents in the bottom income quintile, over half (53 percent)
remain there as adults, and only a quarter (26 percent) make it to the middle quintile or
higher.42 In other words, incarceration not only predicts worse outcomes for prisoners’
children, but also for their grandchildren and beyond.

Family and psychological pathways
Visiting a parent behind bars is stressful. There is usually no place to play. Waiting times
can be long. Sometimes, physical contact between child and parent is limited or
prohibited.43 In combination, these are traumatic for a child.
After a parent is incarcerated, the remaining parent is likely to have higher stress levels
than before his or her partner was incarcerated.44 The nonincarcerated parent is less able
to pay attention to his or her child. Children of incarcerated parents are likely to be
unsupervised more frequently than children of nonincarcerated parents. When a father is


incarcerated, the remaining parent, the mother, may need to work longer hours, making
her less available to her child.
Instability in their parents’ relationship as a result of the incarceration puts children at
heightened risk of misbehaving in class to the point where they get suspended or even
expelled, and these consequences frequently deteriorate into delinquency.45
When children witness their parents’ disenfranchisement, it erodes their engagement in
the democratic process and social institutions. When children see their parents
marginalized from political participation by losing the right to vote, they are less likely to
perceive government institutions as just, trustworthy, or deserving of their participation.46
In the context of institutions that are meant to be socially supportive, like schools and
churches, a parent’s incarceration is often kept hidden for fear of social stigmatization.47
Children of incarcerated parents therefore have fewer opportunities to benefit from
resources that are important for social integration. Social relationships and systems are
fractured, including the structures of family and home. Children of incarcerated parents
experience greater residential instability, as the remaining parent typically can no longer
afford the family’s previous housing and must either find a new, less costly, and usually
less adequate place for the family to live; move in with relatives; or place children in foster
care.48 These conditions also predict children’s misbehavior, suspension, and expulsion
from school.49
Children of incarcerated mothers are especially likely to end up in foster care.50 The
increase in rates of maternal incarceration has added about 100,000 children to the foster
care system, close to one-third of the increase in the number of fostered children between
1985 and 2000.51 In general, children in foster care do worse in school than
socioeconomically and demographically similar children who live with a parent.52 They are
absent from school more frequently and have more behavioral problems.53
Homelessness is also more common for children of parents behind bars. Children of
incarcerated parents, especially incarcerated fathers, are more likely than otherwise
similar children to end up homeless;54 the homelessness trend is especially pronounced
for African American children of incarcerated fathers.55 Because they are more likely to
move around, live in housing shelters, and sleep on the street, nonincarcerated family
members are more likely to be victims of crime.56 Children who are homeless are more
likely to do worse in school than otherwise similar children who are not homeless.57

Health pathways
Stress, especially toxic stress that occurs when a parent is incarcerated, leads to
deterioration in mental health, with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder
being common manifestations, as well as in physical health; for example, many children of
incarcerated parents develop asthma. Indeed, children who grow up under stressful
conditions have more sympathetic nervous activity, including elevated blood pressure.
They have more activity in their hypothalamic pituitary axis, which regulates cortisol. This


disrupts their prefrontal cortex activity, sympathetic nervous activity, and metabolic system,
causing diminished cognition as well as worse health.
Parental incarceration provokes or exacerbates family poverty, which itself elevates the
stress hormones of infants and children between the ages of 7 months to 4 years. Stress
hormones disrupt the metabolic system, leading to increased risk of obesity. Growing up in
poverty also influences gene expression.58 Children who grow up with the chronic stress
of poverty (child-family separation, violence, family turmoil, noise, crowding, and poor
housing quality) have disrupted brain activity. The areas of the brain that are disordered
are responsible for emotional regulation, anxiety, and memory.59
The pathway between stress and asthma is also worth explaining, as an understanding of
it can help shape policy solutions. Psychological factors—a child’s own mental and
emotional state as well as his or her mother’s—can trigger the onset of asthma as well as
worsen the disease. If a mother is emotionally unwell—for example, if she is dealing with
the stress of her partner’s incarceration—her mental state is likely to increase her child’s
physiological response to harmful external stimuli as well as disrupt the child’s hormonal
production.60 The child may appear fine externally, but these internal biological changes
can contribute to the later onset of asthma.61
In addition, family disruption and diminished resources may mean that children are taken
to a doctor less often than is recommended. This, too, contributes to poor health.
These relationships between incarceration and family harm can become cyclical: A parent
is incarcerated. Family income drops. Housing stability is eroded. Stress increases.
Children do worse in school and their health deteriorates. They drop out or are expelled.
They become delinquent or homeless or end up in foster care. Eventually, they are
incarcerated and their own children suffer the same consequences they have faced.

The incarceration of African Americans has taken on such massive proportions that even
those policymakers who recognize the problem are paralyzed in their consideration of
how to address it. The incremental approach that American policymakers usually take to
addressing social problems is wholly inadequate to the task of integrating into mainstream
society the astounding numbers of African American men and their families who have
been unjustly caught up in the penal system. And if attempted, the integration will not be
smooth. Because, as we have noted, prison culture develops tendencies toward criminal
behavior in many of those who, incarcerated for nonviolent, victimless crimes, had few
such tendencies before, penal reform could result in small increases in crime that would
nonetheless stimulate a backlash that could be hard to resist.
Perhaps because the enormity of the task is so frightening, our nation has taken only very
modest steps to address it.


There are no simple formulas for reducing the incentives for prosecutors of those charged
with violent crimes to seek prison terms that are excessive by historical standards and are
not needed to deter or prevent crime. In the case of the war on drugs, however, reforms
are easier to design and implement.62
For example, one of the more serious racially discriminatory aspects of the criminal justice
system is the difference between sentences for crack and powder cocaine, two chemically
identical substances. African Americans tend to use crack cocaine, and whites tend to use
powder. In 1986, Congress adopted minimum sentences for possession of crack cocaine
that were 100 times more severe than the sentences for possession of powder cocaine: A
person arrested with 5 grams of crack cocaine faced a 5-year mandatory minimum
sentence, while one arrested with powder cocaine did not face the same 5-year
sentence unless he or she possessed 500 grams. This obvious racial disparity was upheld
by courts because, under our current legal doctrines, racial discrimination can be proven
only if those enacting the law openly stated that their purpose was to discriminate on the
basis of race. After years of inaction, Congress in 2010 reduced the disparity from a ratio
of 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 and also slightly reduced mandatory minimums. These compromises
had no rational basis, and they preserve the mass incarceration of African Americans. The
ratio should be eliminated entirely, along with the elimination of mandatory minimum
sentences for nonviolent crimes.63
In the closing days of his term, President Obama has commuted the sentences of
hundreds of federal prisoners, most of whom were serving long prison terms for
nonviolent drug offenses. He has commuted more than 1,000 sentences since the
beginning of his presidency, exceeding the combined total of his 11 predecessors.
Administration officials anticipate additional commutations before he leaves office.64 His
actions have been politically controversial and courageous, though limited. Commutations
only reduce sentences; unlike pardons, they do not restore prisoners’ full civil rights.
Pardons of nonviolent drug offenders would not only restore their eligibility to vote,
but—importantly for the welfare of their children—would restore their right to public
housing or housing vouchers, food stamps, and other poverty-reduction benefits. Without
such a restoration of rights, the poverty and homelessness of children’s families that have
such devastating effects on those children’s outcomes will continue long after their
parents’ sentences have been commuted.
President Obama’s actions have also been limited because the overwhelming majority of
those imprisoned for nonviolent, victimless drug crimes are not in federal but in state
prisons, institutions that presidential executive clemency cannot reach. In some states,
reform has proceeded in concert with federal action—reducing minimum sentencing
disparities, for example—but, as indicated by the enormous number of nonviolent state
prisoners, much more should be done if children of the targeted African American
population are to have better opportunities to thrive.
Because imprisonment can lead to more crime by placing those who have committed
minor offenses in daily proximity to more experienced offenders, the release of large
numbers of unjustly imprisoned men will be a policy failure without substantially increased
support for transitional education, employment, and social services. Nearly three-fourths of


imprisoned African American men between the ages of 18 and 25 lack a high school
diploma, making it difficult for them to find legal employment upon release—even if they
did not have criminal records. Supporting these men in obtaining skills and credentials that
would enhance their employability would be a step forward. Yet it is insufficient to ensure
that they have improved skills and credentials if job opportunities are unavailable because
of inadequate macroeconomic policy and discrimination.65
After years of earning no income, and now unemployable because of criminal records,
released prisoners are further confounded by the absence of social service supports and
educational and employment opportunities. The growth of a new underclass is the
inevitable consequence, and the children of those released are the inevitable victims. In
this context, one of the more absurd and outrageous aspects of our criminal justice system
is the rearrest of released prisoners for failure to pay their accumulated court costs, fees
for probation services, or child support—when they have no practical way of earning
income in the legal economy; their children then continue to suffer the consequences of
having a parent behind bars.66
To reduce this harm to the children of prisoners, educators should urge President Obama
to continue pardoning and commuting the sentences of federal prisoners convicted of
nonviolent drug crimes in the time remaining in his administration. And to have the
greatest impact, educators should focus their attention on criminal justice policy in their
own states and communities, where their students are harmed in large numbers by the
discriminatory arrest and subsequent incarceration of their parents in state prisons.

Children’s cognitive and noncognitive problems, to which parental incarceration
contributes, and the concentration of children of incarcerated parents in low-income
minority neighborhoods and in segregated schools, create challenges for teachers and
schools that are difficult to overcome. Because of its effects on children, the mass
incarceration of African American men contributes to the relatively low average
performance of African American children.
Ending the war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration of fathers of schoolchildren
should be a primary focus of school reform. The problem of mass incarceration for drug
crimes, however, is not typically thought of as an educational crisis, and it is an issue that
educational policymakers have little experience in confronting. How educators can add
their voices to demands for an end to this war is a challenge that we should all begin to
confront, if our other educational reform efforts are not to be frustrated by unjustifiable
criminal justice policy and practice.


About the authors
Leila Morsy ( is a senior lecturer in education at the School of
Education, University of New South Wales, and a research associate of the Economic
Policy Institute.
Richard Rothstein ( is a research associate of the Economic Policy
Institute and a senior fellow of the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal
Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Color of
Law (Spring 2017), exposing a forgotten history of how racially conscious government
policy segregated cities from San Francisco to Boston.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Kimberly Rubens, a graduate student at the Goldman
School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who provided valuable
assistance in the preparation of this report.

1. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “President Obama Hits Another Commutation Milestone,” The Atlantic,
November 22, 2016.
2. For a discussion of the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as of attempts by educators to address it,
see Rachel M. Cohen, “Rethinking School Discipline,” The American Prospect 27, no. 4 (November
2, 2016).
3. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Ryan Nunn, Lauren Bauer, Audrey Breitwieser, Megan Mumford,
and Greg Nantz, Twelve Facts about Incarceration and Prisoner Reentry (Washington, D.C.: The
Brookings Institution, October 2016), 6, Figure 5.
4. Peter Wagner and Alison Walsh, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context” (2016).
5. Justice Policy Institute, The Punishing Decade: Prison and Jail Estimates at the Millennium
(Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2000), 4, Graph 4.
Margaret Werner Calahan and Lee Anne Parsons, “Historical Corrections Statistics in the United
States, 1850–1984 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
December 1986), 30, Table 3.3 (for 1970 and 1980 data).
Danielle Kaeble, Lauren Glaze, Anastasios Tsoutis, and Todd Minton, Correctional Populations in
the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014), 3, Table 2.
Allen J. Beck and Darrell K. Gilliard, Prisoners in 1994 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of
Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995), 2. Note that the number for
1970 is estimated from the figure on page 2, not from the table.
Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn, The Growth of Incarceration in the United
States (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2014), 35, Figure 1.
6. Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling, What Caused the Crime Decline? (New
York: The Brennan Center for Justice, 2015), 16, Figure 2.
Schanzenbach et al. 2016, 2, Figure A; see note 3.


7. Roeder, Eisen, and Bowling 2015, 7; see note 6.
8. For our previous discussion of the role of lead in the decline of crime, see Leila Morsy and Richard
Rothstein, Five Social Disadvantages that Depress Student Performance: Why Schools Alone
Can’t Close Achievement Gap (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, June 10, 2015).
9. Roeder, Eisen, and Bowling 2015, 29; see note 6.
Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006),
10. Glenn C. Loury, “Crime, Inequality & Social Justice,” Dædalus 139, no. 3 (2010), 134–140.
Patrick Bayer, Randi Hjalmarsson, and David Pozen, Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer
Effects in Juvenile Corrections, NBER Working Paper 12932 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of
Economic Research, 2007).
Donald T. Hutcherson II, “Crime Pays: The Connection between Time in Prison and Future Criminal
Earnings,” The Prison Journal 92, no. 3 (2012), 315–335.
11. Schanzenbach et al. 2016, 3, Figure 2A; see note 3.
John Pfaff, “The War on Drugs and Prison Growth: Limited Importance, and Limited Legislative
Options,” Harvard Journal on Legislation 52 (2015), 173–220.
Alfred Blumstein and Allen J. Beck, “Population Growth in U.S. Prisons, 1980–1996,” Crime and
Justice 26 (1999), 17–61.
12. Schanzenbach et al. 2016, 7; see note 3.
Kia Makarechi, “What the Data Really Says about Police and Racial Bias,” Vanity Fair (July 14,
13. Loïc Wacquant, “Class, Race & Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America,” Dædalus 139, no. 3
(2010), 79.
Western 2006, 46, Figure 2.2.; see note 9.
14. Prison Policy Initiative, “United States Incarceration Rates by Race and Ethnicity, 2010” (2012).
15. E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2014, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2015) 15, Table 10.
16. The Sentencing Project, Fact Sheet: Trends in U.S. Corrections (Washington, D.C.: The
Sentencing Project, 2015), 5.
Thomas P. Bonczar, Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974–2001 (Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August
2003), 7, Figure 3; 8, Table 9.
17. Christopher Wildeman and Bruce Western, “Incarceration in Fragile Families,” The Future of
Children 20, no. 2 (2010), 162, Table 2.
18. Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility
(Washington, D.C.: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010), 19, Figure 10.
19. Western and Pettit 2010, 4; see note 18.
20. Western and Pettit 2010, 20, Figure 11; see note 18.
21. Kristin Turney, “Stress Proliferation across Generations? Examining the Relationship between
Parental Incarceration and Childhood Health,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 55, no. 3
(2014), 310. doi:10.1177/0022146514544173


22. Holly Foster and John Hagan, “The Mass Incarceration of Parents in America: Issues of Race/
Ethnicity, Collateral Damage to Children and Prisoner Reentry,” Annals of the American Academy
of Political and Social Science 623, no. 1 (2009), 185.
23. Lauren Aaron and Daniel H. Dallaire, “Parental Incarceration and Multiple Risk Experiences:
Effects on Family Dynamics and Children’s Delinquency,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 39,
no. 12 (2010), 1471.
Emily Bever Nichols and Ann Booker Loper, “Incarceration in the Household: Academic Outcomes
of Adolescents with an Incarcerated Household Member,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 41,
no. 11 (2012), 1463.
24. Rosa Minhyo Cho, “Maternal Incarceration and Children’s Adolescent Outcomes: Timing and
Dosage,” Social Service Review 84, no. 2 (2010), 273.
25. Foster and Hagan 2009, 185; see note 22.
26. Turney 2014, 310; see note 21.
27. Turney 2014, 310; see note 21.
Rucker Johnson, Ever-Increasing Levels of Parental Incarceration and the Consequences for
Children (New York: The Russell Sage Foundation, 2009), 14, 18, and 29–32, Tables 6–8. (Note
that this study refers only to behavior.)
28. For PTSD, anxiety, high cholesterol, asthma, migraines, and depression, see Rosalyn D. Lee,
Xiangming Fang, and Feijun Luo, “The Impact of Parental Incarceration on the Physical and Mental
Health of Young Adults,” Pediatrics 131, no. 4 (2013), 1192, Table 3, Model 3. doi:10.1542/
For ADHD, behavioral problems, developmental delays, and learning disabilities, see Turney 2014,
310; see note 21.
For marijuana use, see Daniel P. Mears and Sonja E. Siennick, “Young Adult Outcomes and the
Life-Course Penalties of Parental Incarceration,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
53, no. 1 (2016), 21, Table 4. doi: 10.1177/0022427815592452
For delinquency, see Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1480, Table 7; see note 23.
29. Lee, Fang, and Luo 2013, 1188; see note 28.
30. Lee, Fang, and Luo 2013, 1188; see note 28.
31. Michael E. Roettger and Jason D. Boardman, “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, no. 7 (2012), 641. doi:10.1093/aje/
32. Mears and Siennick 2016, 21, Table 4; see note 28.
33. Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1480, Table 7; see note 23.
Joseph Murray, Rolf Loeber, and Dustin Pardini, “Parental Involvement in the Criminal Justice
System and the Development of Youth Theft, Marijuana Use, Depression, and Poor Academic
Performance,” Criminology 50, no. 1 (2012), 282.
Amanda Geller, Irwin Garfinkel, Carey E. Cooper, and Ronald B. Mincy, “Parental Incarceration and
Child Well-Being: Implications for Urban Families,” Social Science Quarterly 90, no. 5 (2009), 1188.
34. Danielle H. Dallaire, “Incarcerated Mother and Fathers: A Comparison of Risks for Children and
Families,” Family Relations 56, no. 5 (2007), 446.


Beth M. Huebner and Regan Gustafson, “The Effect of Maternal Incarceration on Adult Offspring
Involvement in the Criminal Justice System,” Journal of Criminal Justice 35, no. 3 (2007), 291.
35. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Felon Voting Rights” (Washington, D.C.: National
Conference of State Legislatures, 2016).
36. Hedwig Lee, Lauren C. Porter, and Megan Comfort, “Consequences of Family Member
Incarceration: Impacts on Civic Participation and Perceptions of the Legitimacy and Fairness of
Government,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651, no. 1 (2014),
37. Johnson 2009, 14; see note 27.
38. Western and Pettit 2010, 3; see note 18.
39. Kai Wright, “Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps You Unemployed For Life,” The Nation
(November 6, 2013).
Western and Pettit 2010, 5, 22; see note 18.
40. Schanzenbach et al. 2016, 11; see note 3.
41. Educational data consistently show a close relationship between family income and test scores.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that, for example, in 2015 fourth graders
eligible for free or reduced price lunch (with family incomes no greater than 185 percent of the
poverty line) had average math scores of 229, while students who were not eligible had average
scores of 253. This is a gap of about 0.8 standard deviations, similar to a gap of about 29
percentile points in cohort rank. Taking a more extreme comparison, between children from the
wealthiest families (at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) and those from the poorest
(at the 10th percentile), the test score gap is about a full standard deviation or greater (similar to a
gap of about 34 points in cohort rank). Other data show similar differences. We might, for example,
expect a narrower difference on the SAT, because a smaller proportion of students from lesswealthy families take the SAT, and those who do are probably those with greater ability than the
typical lower-income student. Yet children of families with annual household incomes of $80,000
or less have average mathematics SAT scores of 484, compared with 548 for children of families
with annual household incomes greater than $80,000—a gap of about 0.6 standard deviations,
similar to a gap of about 26 percentile points in cohort rank.
National Center for Education Statistics, NAEP Data Explorer, Main NDE.
Anna K. Chmielewski and Sean F. Reardon, “Patterns of Cross-National Variation in the Association
between Income and Academic Achievement,” AERA Open 2, no. 3 (2016), 2.
The College Board, 2015 College-Bound Seniors Total Group Profile Report (New York: The
College Board, 2015), 4.
42. Leonard Lopoo and Thomas DeLeire, Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility across
Generations (Washington, D.C.: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2012), 6, Figure 3; 20, Figure 15. These
estimates compare the average income of parents over a 5-year period with the average income
of their children when these children are approximately the same age as the parents were when
the initial income data were collected.
43. Joseph Murray, David P. Farrington, and Ivanna Sekol, “Children’s Antisocial Behavior, Mental
Health, Drug Use, and Educational Performance after Parental Incarceration: A Systematic Review
and Meta-Analysis,” Psychological Bulletin 138, no. 2 (2012), 178. doi:10.1037/a0026407
44. Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1472; see note 23.


45. Nichols and Loper 2012, 1464; see note 23.
Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1482; see note 23.
Christopher Wildeman, “Parental Incarceration, Child Homelessness, and the Invisible
Consequences of Mass Imprisonment,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science 651, no. 1 (2014), 77.
Johnson 2009, 14; see note 27.
46. Lee, Porter, and Comfort 2014, 53; see note 36.
47. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New
York: The New Press, 2012), 166.
48. Geller et al. 2009, 1188; see note 33.
49. Johnson 2009, 18; see note 27.
50. Wildeman 2014, 77; see note 45.
51. In 2000, 568,000 children were in foster care, up from 276,000 in 1985 (Wildeman 2014, 77; see
note 45).
Cho 2010, 258; see note 24.
Christopher A. Swann and Michelle Sheran Sylvester, “The Foster Care Crisis: What Caused
Caseloads to Grow,” Demography 43, no. 2 (2006), 309, 323.
52. Vanessa X. Barrat and BethAnn Berliner, The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1: Education
Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools (San Francisco: WestEd, The
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, 2013).
Cecilia Casanueva, Ellen Wilson, Keith Smith, Melissa Dolan, Heather Ringeisen, and Brian Horne,
NSCAW II Wave 2 Report: Child Well-Being (Washington, D.C.: Office of Planning, Research and
Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2012).
J.J. Cutuli, Christopher David Desjardin, Janette E. Herbers, Jeffrey D. Long, David Heistad, ChiKeung Chan, Elizabeth Hinz, and Ann S. Masten, “Academic Achievement Trajectories of
Homeless and Highly Mobile Students: Resilience in the Context of Chronic and Acute Risk,” Child
Development 84, no. 3 (2013), 841–857.
Joy Lesnick, Robert M. George, Cheryl Smithgall, and Julia Gwynne, Reading on Grade Level in
Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment (Chicago:
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 2010).
53. Dylan Conger and Alison Rebeck, How Children’s Foster Care Experiences Affect Their
Education (New York: Vera Institute for Justice, 2001), 16; Casanueva et al. 2012; see note 52.
Mary Dozier, Melissa Manni, M. Kathleen Gordon, Elizabeth Peloso, Megan R. Gunnar, K. Chase
Stovall-McClough, Diana Eldreth, and Seymour Levine, “Foster Children’s Diurnal Production of
Cortisol: An Exploratory Study,” Child Maltreatment 11, no. 2 (2006), 189–197.
Philip A. Fisher, Megan R. Gunnar, Mary Dozier, Jacqueline Bruce, and Katherine C. Pears, “Effects
of Therapeutic Interventions for Foster Children on Behavioral Problems, Caregiver Attachment,
and Stress Regulatory Neural Systems,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1094, no. 1
(2006), 215–225.
Brenda Jones Harden, “Safety and Stability for Foster Children: A Developmental Perspective,”
The Future of Children (2004): 31–47.
54. Wildeman 2014; see note 45.
55. Wildeman 2014, 74, 93; see note 45.


56. Aaron and Dallaire 2010, 1478; see note 23.
57. John W. Fantuzzo, Whitney A. LeBoeuf, Chin-Chih Chen, Heather L. Rouse, and Dennis P.
Culhane, “The Unique and Combined Effects of Homelessness and School Mobility on the
Educational Outcomes of Young Children,” Educational Researcher 41, no. 9 (2012), 397.
58. Jack P. Shonkoff and Andrew S. Garner, “The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and
Toxic Stress,” Pediatrics 129, no. 1 (2012), e235.
59. Pilyoung Kim, Gary W. Evans, Michael Angstadt, S. Shaun Ho, Chandra S. Sripada, James E.
Swain, Israel Liberzon, and K. Luan Phan, “Effects of Childhood Poverty and Chronic Stress on
Emotion Regulatory Brain Function in Adulthood,” Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences 110, no. 46 (2013), 18442.
Shonkoff and Garner 2012, 236; see note 58.
60. Salma Bahreinian, Geoff D.C. Ball, Timothy K. Vander Leek, Ian Colman, Brian J. McNeil, Allan B.
Becker, and Anita L. Kozyryskyj, “Allostatic Load Biomarkers and Asthma in Adolescents,”
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 187, no. 2 (2013), 144.
Daniel Exley, Alyson Norman, and Michael Hyland, “Adverse Childhood Experience and Asthma
Onset: A Systematic Review,” European Respiratory Review 24, no. 136 (2015), 299.
Marijke M. Tibosch, Christianne M. Verhaak, and Peter J.F.M. Merkus, “Psychological
Characteristics Associated with the Onset and Course of Asthma in Children and Adolescents: A
Systematic Review of Longitudinal Effects,” Patient Education and Counseling 82, no. 1 (2011), 11.
61. Jutta M. Wolf, Gregory E. Miller, and Edith Chen, “Parent Psychological States Predict Changes in
Inflammatory Markers in Children with Asthma and Healthy Children,” Brain, Behavior, and
Immunity 22, no. 4 (2008), 433–441.
62. Pfaff 2015; see note 11.
63. Eric H. Holder Jr., “We Can Have Shorter Sentences and Less Crime,” New York Times (August 11,
64. Lantigua-Williams 2016; see note 1.
65. Wayne Taliaferro, Duy Pham, and Anna Cielinski, From Incarceration to Reentry: A Look at
Trends, Gaps, and Opportunities in Correctional Education and Training (Washington, D.C.: Clasp,
66. Alexander 2012, 151; see note 47.

Note (12/22/16): An earlier version of this report incorrectly attributed the growth of mass
incarceration of African Americans “primarily” to the war on drugs, without noting that
greatly increased sentence lengths for nondrug crimes are also responsible. The report
has been corrected. We acknowledge an anonymous web commenter for calling attention
to this oversight.