Incarceration Project Updates

ISS’ Mass Incarceration project examines the factors that cause mass imprisonment and the consequences of imprisonment on individuals, families, and society. Every year, during their 3 year term (2015-2018), the fellows provide updates on the progress and current direction of the project.


In the project’s second year, the team engaged in more collaborative and individual research related to the important topics of incarceration’s causes and consequences.

Christopher Wildeman and Maria Fitzpatrick, both in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, and Alyssa Goldman, graduate student in sociology, are using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to see how general educational programs available to prisoners moderate the consequences of incarceration. In another project, Wildeman is examining teachers’ expectations of a child with an incarcerated parent and how having a parent in prison affects children.

Julilly Kohler-Hausmann in the Department of Government completed Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in the 1970s America, published by Princeton University Press. Her book uses cases in California, Illinois, and New York to shed light on how the penal system expanded at the same time as politicians eviscerated the nation’s welfare system in the 1970s. She was awarded a 2017-2018 Faculty Fellowship at Harvard University’s Warren Center to research her next project on the politics of felon disenfranchisement and voter fraud in the decades after the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Anna Haskins in the Department of Sociology is involved in several projects examining the educational consequences of paternal incarceration for children. Her findings published in Social Forces show that for elementary-aged boys and girls, the incarceration of a parent is associated with reductions in memory and attention skills for boys and reading comprehension and math skills for girls. Moreover, this paper estimates that paternal incarceration explains between 2-15 percent of the Black-White achievement gap. Another project, led by Haskins, is looking at how living in neighborhoods with high incarceration rates potentially impacts children’s health, behavior, and academic outcomes.

Peter Enns, leader of the ISS project, 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.

Wildeman and Haskins organized the conference, Minimizing Collateral Damage: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Interventions to Diminish the Consequence of Mass Incarceration for Children, hosted by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research on September 15-16, 2016. The conference featured interdisciplinary scholars spotlighting how mass incarceration affects children. The American Psychological Association plans to publish an edited volume, based on the conference, in late 2017. Another event, Educate the Vote, that focused on incarceration and immigration issues, was held just before the first presidential debate in 2016. Enns helped organize the well-attended debate.

The Russell Sage Foundation awarded Wildeman $35,000 to create a linked administrative dataset of children in New York City with paternal or maternal incarceration. The new link will provide more accurate causal estimates of the effects of parental incarceration on children than the surveys previously used which suffered from high attrition rates.


The ISS launched the Mass Incarceration project in July 2015. More details on the motivations and plans for this timely project’s plan appear in a September 2015 Chronicle article, “ISS project examines reasons for U.S. mass incarceration” (September 2015).

During the project’s first year, two book manuscript workshops were held for Peter Enns and Julilly Kohler-Hausmann in history. These workshops provided important feedback and exposure for the team members’ research.

Enns’ book, Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. Stephen Raphael, Shadd Maruna, Chris Uggen, and Sarah Lageson attended the workshop and offered extremely valuable input during the final stages of the book.

Kohler-Hausmann’s book, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America, is slated to be re-leased by Princeton University Press in 2017. The project held a book workshop at Hunter College in New York City in 2016. Katherine Beckett, Sanford Schramm, and Enns attended the workshop, providing helpful recommendations for the book.

Project member Maria Fitzpatrick received tenure in 2015-16. The project funded Alyssa Goldman, a Ph.D. student in sociology, to work with Fitzpatrick, and project members Christopher Wildeman and Anna Haskins on data collection pertaining to the consequences of incarceration for children. The work was critical to a major collaborative grant application submitted.

The project supported an Annals conference, “Tough on Crime, Tough on Families? Criminal Justice and Family Life in America.” This conference featured work by Wildeman and Haskins and brought prominent criminal justice scholars from around the country to Cornell.

The project planned events for 2016-17, including a conference on the consequence of mass incarceration for children. In 2016, just before the presidential election, there will be a forum for students, faculty and members of the community, where policy experts are to debate key issues relevant to the election, including criminal justice matters.