Mass Incarceration Projects

Faculty fellows of the ISS’ project on the Causes, Consequences, and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States are examining the factors that cause mass imprisonment and the consequences of imprisonment on individuals, families, and society. They are involved in several research projects described below:

Did Conservative Political Elites Respond To Or Encourage the Link Between Racial Prejudice and Punitive Attitudes?
Peter Enns, Government

Peter is analyzing the relationship between racial prejudice and punitive attitudes, such as support for lengthy prison terms toward drug offenders and other lawbreakers. Using county-level votes for California ballot initiatives related to criminal justice policy as well as national public opinion polls from the 1930s and 1940s – which are available from the Roper Center where Enns is the executive director – he is trying to determine how the public’s perceptions about race, crime, and punishment have evolved during this period and the factors behind these changes.


Education and Prisons
Maria Fitzpatrick, Policy Analysis and Management
Christopher Wildeman, Policy Analysis and Management
Alyssa Goldman, Graduate Student, Sociology

Using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, this project is examining how educational programs, such as Pell Grants and the GED program available to prisoners, moderates the consequences of incarceration. This study is also examining how having a parent in prison affects children and how well they do in school.


Beyond Boys’ Bad Behavior: Paternal Incarceration and Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood
Anna Haskins, Sociology

To assess whether having an incarcerated father affects children’s cognitive skill development into middle childhood, this project uses the Fragile Families Study to analyze the impacts on boys and girls ages 9 and under. This study, published in Social Forces, shows that boys suffer memory and attention deficits while girls experience reduced reading comprehension and math problem-solving skills. The findings may explain the achievement gap between Black and White children, resulting in intergenerational inequalities for American children.


Neighborhood Incarceration Rates and Child Wellbeing
Anna Haskins, Sociology

Bridging recent work on neighborhood incarceration rates and adult wellbeing, with the body of literature on the intergenerational impacts of incarceration for children, this project explores whether living in a high-incarceration neighborhood is associated with child academic, behavioral, and health outcomes. Two main questions are explored: 1) are children who live in high incarceration neighborhoods at risk of academic, behavioral, and health problems, even if their parent never goes to jail or prison? and 2) do associations differ by individual-level paternal incarceration status?


Parental Incarceration and Parental Involvement in Schooling
Anna Haskins, Sociology
Wade Jacobsen, Sociology and Criminology, Penn State University

Parents play important roles in their children’s lives, and parental involvement in elementary schooling in particular is meaningful for a range of child outcomes. Given the increasing number of school-aged children with incarcerated parents, this study explores the ways paternal incarceration is associated with mothers’ and fathers’ reports of home- and school-based involvement in schooling. Given the recurring interest in the interconnection between families and schools and how this translates into success, this study suggests that paternal incarceration is associated with lower parental involvement in schooling and highlights the role of system avoidance in this association.


The Schooling Contexts of Children of the Prison Boom
Anna Haskins, Sociology

In an effort to understand and document collateral consequences of mass imprisonment, recent attention focuses on the interactions families and communities have with the criminal justice system. However, less attention has been paid to the interactions children of the incarcerated have with another important social institution: schools. This project provides a descriptive picture of the types of schools children with incarcerated fathers attend. Special attention is paid to structural, compositional and climatic contextual school characteristics, offering a first exploratory step towards understanding the interplay between three of America’s most powerful social institutions — families, schools, and the criminal justice system — and the ways they interact to structure the educational trajectories of what scholars are calling “Children of the Prison Boom.”


Vanishing Voters: U.S. Democracy and the Carceral State
Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Government

This project scrutinizes the relationship between the rhetoric and practice of democracy in the United States and the country’s system of punishment. It investigates how different groups used the penal system to stymie efforts to establish a more inclusive, multi-racial democracy in the decades following the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It focuses particularly on the ways consternation about voter fraud consistently derailed popular efforts to expand the electorate int he 1970s and 1980s. This research also delves into legislation, court cases, and popular debate over felon disenfranchisement during the late 20th century and uses these struggles over convicts’ political status as a window into the evolving popular understandings of American democracy.


When Parents Are Incarcerated: Interdisciplinary Research and Interventions to Support Children
Christopher Wildeman, Policy Analysis and Management
Anna Haskins, Sociology
Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In this edited volume, we consider how mass incarceration affects children and what we might do about it, with special emphasis on cultivating vibrant interdisciplinary dialogue.


Parental Incarceration and Teachers’ Expectations of Students
Christopher Wildeman, Policy Analysis and Management
Elizabeth G. Walsh, University of Texas-Austin
Kris Scardamali, University of Texas-Austin
Bridget Brew, Ph.D. student in Policy Analysis and Managment
Rourke O’Brien, University of Wisconsin-Madison

There is evidence showing the association between paternal incarceration and child well-being, but teasing out the causal effects has not happened. Working with psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we are experimentally varying the status of the father of a hypothetic student to examine how teachers’ expectations of a hypothetic student are affected when the father is listed as incarcerated compared to when the parent is “not in the picture.”