Mass incarceration is taking a huge toll on black students in this country.
A new report by the Economic Policy Institution (EPI) found that the “discriminatory incarceration” of black parents can lead to lowered performance in their children’s education and detrimental effects on their physical and mental health. One in four black students have a parent who has been to or is currently in prison. One in ten black students have a parent who is currently in prison, according to the report.
EPI’s report shows to educators that without criminal justice reform, the racial achievement gap will persist.
The report, authored by Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein, shows that kids who have a parent who is currently incarcerated are 48 percent more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; 23 percent more likely to suffer from development delays; 22 percent more likely to have learning disabilities; and more likely to drop out of school than kids without an incarcerated parent. Students with incarcerated fathers, specifically, face higher risks of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety problems, high cholesterol, asthma and migraines.
During a teleconference with press, Rothstein said that compared to children with equal socioeconomic circumstances and no parent in prison, students with incarcerated parents were impacted much more heavily in the aforementioned categories.
“One of the very interesting things about the sources in this report, because they are heavily from epidemiology studies, sociological studies, they’re very carefully controlled for other factors,” he said. “So the differences in experiencing these conditions… can’t be attributed to either low income or other disadvantages that these children have.”
The study also showed the disproportionate rate at which black people are sent to prison. One of the report’s key findings was that black kids are six times as likely to have an imprisoned parent than white kids. In a growing number of instances, nonviolent drug-related crimes are the case, despite the fact that black people are no more likely to use or sell drugs than white people.
It’s not simply an issue of criminal justice reform. It’s something that educators have to understand and support reform if they want to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children.” Richard Rothstein
“The impact of a parent incarceration, which is well known by criminal justice reformers to be racially disparate — and without justification — racially discriminatory, is pretty substantial on school children,” Rothstein said. “It is hard to imagine how the achievement gap that we spend so much time talking about can be substantially narrowed if teachers are facing classrooms in which 25 percent of the children in segregated schools are suffering from these kinds of traumatic effects of having a parent incarcerated.”
The author said the report’s purpose is to call attention to this and urge educators to fight for criminal justice reform in order to make strides towards closing the achievement gap. Rothstein noted that prison reform is primarily a war at the state and local levels and less likely to happen at the federal level, especially with an incoming president who called for a reinstatement of stop-and-frisk.
“It’s not simply an issue of criminal justice reform,” he said. “It’s something that educators have to understand and support reform if they want to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children.”
Read the Economic Policy Institution’s full report here.