Mass Incarceration and Children's Outcomes: Criminal Justice Policy is Education Policy

by Richard Rothstein; Lella Morcy

Dec 15, 2016

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.

  • 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 suffer from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder, and homelessness.
  • Independent of other social and economic characteristics, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to misbehave in school.
  • Independent of other social and economic characteristics, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school.
  • Independent of other social and economic characteristics, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to develop learning disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).