Since the early 1970s, the American imprisonment rate has increased dramatically from a modest 100 per 100,000 to a comparatively and historically extreme 500 per 100,000. Because the risk of imprisonment is concentrated among young, African American men with low levels of education, scholars have developed an interest in the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality. This interest is perhaps best understood as constitutive of two research waves. The first wave of research in this area focused primarily on the consequences of imprisonment for men’s labor market chances, with implications for labor market inequality. A second wave of research considers the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequalities in the political system, childhood wellbeing, and men’s health, to name just three areas that have received much attention. Missing from this literature, however, is an analysis of how mass imprisonment affects the health and wellbeing of the predominantly poor and minority women who routinely deal with the absence of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Poor and minority women, particularly African American women, face markedly higher rates of chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, and poor mental health compared to other demographic groups. These disparities have grown over time and remain largely unexplained. Mass imprisonment could be an important pathway for explaining the causes and persistence of health inequalities among American women. This talk will present a discussion of a book project where we examine the possible impact of mass imprisonment on the health and social well-being of women and on health disparities. The talk will highlight some of the preliminary results on the qualitative component of the book from interviews with women on the East and West coast of the United States.


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