Criminology Collateral Consequences of Felony Conviction and Imprisonment
Sara Wakefield
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0162


The so-called collateral consequences of imprisonment encompass a host of legal restrictions and deleterious outcomes for former inmates, their families, and their communities. These may result from formal legal barriers associated with a felony conviction to extralegal effects resulting from periods of imprisonment. The universe of collateral consequences, a phrase some scholars decline to use because it diminishes their importance, affects all domains of social life and results from a patchwork of legal restrictions, conditions imposed by the criminal justice system upon release, and the indirect effects of imprisonment on inmates’ families, neighborhoods, and employment prospects. These “collateral consequences,” “punishments beyond the offender,” “invisible punishments,” and “extralegal sentences” form the basis for a growing field in criminology, sociology, and law focused on the contemporary prison boom in the United States. Imprisonment has always influenced the lives of former inmates well after they leave the institution behind, but the rise in imprisonment since 1970 in the United States has exacerbated these effects as well as concentrated them among some segments of the population. Thus, while former felons have always been barred from voting in some states, for example, it is only as a result of mass incarceration that these laws have influenced the outcomes of elections. Finally, though some of the work on collateral consequences described here examines imprisonment in other contexts (e.g., in the United Kingdom), most work in the area is centered on the United States because of its exceptionality with respect to high rates of imprisonment.

General Overviews

Several important works describe the legal and social consequences of criminal conviction and imprisonment. Pattillo, et al. 2004 and Mauer and Chesney-Lind 2002 are edited volumes covering collateral consequences, both are highly accessible and notable for the quality of the contributors and breadth of coverage. Olivares, et al. 1996 presents an analysis of changes in collateral consequences at the state level, demonstrating significant change in some forms of legal restrictions placed on felons. Comfort 2007 is a review piece focused on the collateral consequences of imprisonment for those other than the inmate, with an emphasis on children and families. Taken together, the works listed below offer a broad overview of the prison boom and criminal conviction and the variety of consequences that stem from both.

  • Comfort, Megan. 2007. Punishment beyond the legal offender. Annual Review of Law and Social Science 3:271–296.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.3.081806.112829Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent review piece describing the multitude of effects of imprisonment on the children and families of inmates. Notable for its theoretical sophistication, coverage of qualitative and quantitative work, and range of topics discussed.

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  • Mauer, Marc, and Meda Chesney-Lind. 2002. Invisible punishment: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment. New York: New Press.

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    An edited volume covering a wide range of collateral consequences, including restrictions on housing, labor market outcomes for former inmates, and the influence of incarceration on families and children. Notable for both the high quality of each chapter as well as the stature of the contributors in the field. Highly accessible.

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  • Olivares, Kathleen M., Velmer S. Burton Jr., and Francis T. Cullen. 1996. The collateral consequences of a felony conviction: A national study of state legal codes 10 years later. Federal Probation 60:10–17.

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    An analysis of collateral consequences at the state level from 1986 to 1996 in the United States. The work shows a pattern of increasing restriction, especially in the areas of criminal registration, the use of criminal convictions in family court to make divorce and parenting decisions, trust and safety restrictions (most notably bans on jury service and firearm ownership). At the same time, however, states had relaxed laws barring felons from voting and loosened restrictions on public employment.

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  • Pattillo, Mary, David Weiman, and Bruce Western, eds. 2004. Imprisoning America: The social effects of mass incarceration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    An excellent edited volume by well-known scholars in the field, detailing a variety of collateral consequences of mass incarceration.

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Domain-Specific Collateral Consequences of Conviction and Imprisonment

Research on the collateral consequences of imprisonment covers a range of outcomes, including employment and wages, marriage and family formation, elections and civic engagement, and physical and mental health, among others. Few studies focus on the balance of restrictions ex-offenders are subject to; rather, most emphasize one collateral consequence or another. Much of the early research on the extralegal consequences of incarceration focused on the labor market, but the field of inquiry quickly spread to include a wide variety of social behaviors and outcomes. Work on the collateral consequences of incarceration has also drawn the attention of scholars of varying backgrounds (to name a few, sociologists, criminologists, lawyers, developmental psychologists, and social workers) precisely because it encompasses such a broad range of behaviors, restrictions, and outcomes.

Legal Collateral Consequences

The following subsections address legal collateral consequences: Civil Death and Civic Engagement, Access to Public Goods, and Formal Challenges to Reentry.

Civil Death and Civic Engagement

The consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system for civic engagement emerge most strongly from felony criminal conviction. The most severe of these are deportation for noncitizens, but a number of states also bar felons from voting (some while under correctional supervision and others for longer periods, including lifetime bans), jury service, holding public office, and other forms of civic engagement and community involvement. Binnall 2010 and Kalt 2003 review exclusions from jury service as a result of felony conviction from a legal perspective, and both suggest the measures are counterproductive. Manza and Uggen 2006 links felony disenfranchisement to electoral outcomes, and work by the Sentencing Project tracks evolving state law on disenfranchisement as well as other collateral consequences of imprisonment (see the part of their website dedicated to Felony Disenfranchisement. Finally, King, et al. 2012 details the determinants of shifts in criminal deportations, highlighting the role of surplus labor and cultural shifts associated with the punitive era of punishment in the United States in the early 21st century.

  • Binnall, James Michael. 2010. A jury of none: An essay on the last acceptable form of civic banishment. Dialectical Anthropology 34:533–538.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10624-010-9162-1Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An essay written by a legal scholar and former felon, arguing that jury service bans violate democratic principles and also undermine reentry goals for recently released offenders. Highly accessible and well suited for undergraduates.

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  • Kalt, Brian C. 2003. The exclusion of felons from jury service. American University Law Review 53:65–189.

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    An expansive overview of jurisdictional and temporal variation in felon jury service exclusions and constitutionality concerns. The paper also includes a lengthy discussion of the policy implications of such exclusions, including racial disparity in application and outcome.

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  • King, Ryan D., Michael Massoglia, and Christopher Uggen. 2012. Employment and exile: US criminal deportations, 1908–2005. American Journal of Sociology 117.6: 1786–1825.

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    An analysis of the macro-level determinants of criminal deportations. The work finds that criminal deportations were highly contingent on employment conditions, rising with the unemployment rate, after World War II. Criminal deportations in more recent periods rise with the incarceration rate and the punitive turn noted more generally in other contexts.

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  • Manza, Jeff, and Christopher Uggen. 2006. Locked out: Felon disenfranchisement and American democracy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195149326.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent study of the effects of the disenfranchisement of the felony population on electoral outcomes. The work is notable not only for its methodological rigor but also for its ability to make the incarcerated population consequential for those with very little interest in incarceration or the prison population per se.

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  • Sentencing Project: Felony Disenfranchisement.

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    The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, tracks changes in felony disenfranchisement laws by state and includes an interactive map. The website also includes information on other collateral consequences of conviction and imprisonment as well as research on the topic.

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Access to Public Goods

Felony convictions bar individuals from a number of public goods, but perhaps the most consequential of these involve access to higher education and public housing. Similarly, shifts in the form and justification of imprisonment have undermined inmate access to rehabilitation programs while behind bars and reentry services once released. Page 2004 and Phelps 2011 describe the complex interplay between politics and prisoners; Page 2004 is focused on the decision to restrict access to educational programs for inmates and bar them from receiving Pell Grants, and Phelps 2011 describes a more broad-based interplay between politics, rhetoric, and prison reentry programming. Felons and former inmates face a myriad of barriers to reentry upon release; following on the heels of early works that detail the cultural and political precursors of the prison boom, Beckett and Herbert 2010 provides an update on the sheer scope of the punitive turn in contemporary social life. Truman 2003–2004 presents an argument against bans on public housing for the families of drug offenders.

  • Beckett, Katherine, and Steve Herbert. 2010. Banished: The new social control in urban America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An elegant and compelling study of the myriad ways in which social control and the criminal justice system ensnare the urban poor and contribute to entrenched inequalities. Laws barring ex-felons from public parks, public housing, and civic engagement opportunities represent a new form of banishment in the contemporary era.

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  • Page, Joshua. 2004. Eliminating the enemy: The import of denying prisoners access to higher education in Clinton’s America. Punishment and Society 6.4: 357–378.

    DOI: 10.1177/1462474504046118Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A compelling example of how the punitive turn translated to the removal of programs for inmates; illuminates the high political stakes associated with being “soft on crime” during the punitive era.

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  • Phelps, Michelle S. 2011. Rehabilitation in the punitive era: The gap between rhetoric and reality in US prison programs. Law and Society Review 45.1: 33–68.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5893.2011.00427.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An intriguing study of the evolution of prison programming during the prison boom. Phelps shows that disinvestments in prison programming did not occur until the 1990s, well into the punitive era, as prisons shifted from rehabilitation to reentry-related programming.

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  • Truman, Alicia Werning. 2003–2004. Unexpected evictions: Why drug offenders should be warned that others could lose public housing if they plead guilty. Iowa Law Review 89:1753–1774.

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    A piece written by a law student on loss of public housing as a collateral consequence, arguing forcefully that it should not be treated as such. Suitable for researchers and law students but also a good overview of the overlap between public goods and collateral consequences.

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Formal Challenges to Reentry

A number of important works detail the difficulties associated with prison reentry in an era of less public investment in prison programming and reentry services. The works detailed here (Blumstein and Beck 2005, Petersilia 2003) offer a brief introduction. Taken together, they suggest that a number of legal restrictions on inmates have perverse or unintended consequences that make prisoner reentry more difficult. As one provocative example, Levenson and Cotter 2005 describes the unintended effects of sex offender registry laws for sex offenders and for public safety. Along the same lines, Harris, et al. 2010 shows that legal debt may do more harm than good and contribute to recidivism among recently released inmates. Finally, while one could include a number of subcategories of collateral consequences, Wheelock 2005 provides an accessible summary of restrictions across states, including deportation, bans on jury service, restricted access to public goods, and bans on firearm possession.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, and Allen J. Beck. 2005. Reentry as a transient state between liberty and recommitment. In Prisoner reentry and crime in America. Edited by Jeremy Travis and Christy Visher, 50–79. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511813580Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent and accessible treatment of the difficulties of prison reentry in the punitive era.

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  • Harris, Alexes, Heather Evans, and Katherine Beckett. 2010. Drawing blood from stones: Legal debt and social inequality in the contemporary United States. American Journal of Sociology 115:1753–1799.

    DOI: 10.1086/651940Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An article that provides a partial explanation for high recidivism rates as well as the mechanisms through which incarceration influences the families of inmates; the authors show how the accumulation of legal debt resulting from incarceration may impose substantial costs on the reentry processes of inmates as well as their families.

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  • Levenson, Jill S., and Leo P. Cotter. 2005. The effects of Megan’s Law on sex offender reintegration. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21.1: 49–66.

    DOI: 10.1177/1043986204271676Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of sex offenders in Florida and the effects of Megan’s Law on their reentry experiences. The study notes that physical violence is relatively rare but noted significant reentry problems as a result of notification and numerous errors in the sex offender registry system.

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  • Petersilia, Joan. 2003. When prisoners come home: Parole and prisoner reentry. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A widely cited and accessible discussion of prison reentry and the barriers to successful reentry in the early 21st century. Highly accessible and written for a practitioner as well as academic audience.

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  • Wheelock, Darren. 2005. Collateral consequences and racial inequality: Felon status restrictions as a system of disadvantage. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21:82–90.

    DOI: 10.1177/1043986204271702Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A short summary describing legal restrictions on felons. In addition to its coverage of restrictions and legal barriers, the article describes the influence these restrictions may have on racial inequality. Highly accessible and suitable for undergraduates.

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Extralegal Collateral Consequences

The following subsections address extralegal collateral consequences: Labor Market and Labeling Effects, Family, Health, and Racial Inequality in the Effects of Collateral Consequences.

Labor Market and Labeling Effects

Early research on the collateral consequences of the prison boom centered on employment and labor market outcomes. In a series of influential articles, Bruce Western demonstrated that incarceration reduced wages and that the size of the contemporary prison population has demonstrable effects on the larger labor market (e.g., Western 2002, Western and Beckett 1999). Other studies suggest that the imposition of a criminal label (and associated stigma) is largely responsible for the effects observed in the labor market (Chiricos, et al. 2007; Hagan and Palloni 1990; Pager 2003). The labor market effects of incarceration appear not to depend on the length of incarceration but rather on its presence or absence (Kling 2006); that said, what to do about this is unclear. In a provocative essay as part of an excellent larger forum on the use of criminal background checks (all of the essays included in the forum are well worth reading), Freeman 2008 analyzes the use of criminal background checks in employment and the differential discrimination experiences that white and black former inmates face in the labor market.

  • Chiricos, Ted, Kelle Barrick, William Bales, and Stephanie Bontrager. 2007. The labeling of convicted felons and its consequences for recidivism. Criminology 45.3: 547–581.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2007.00089.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An innovative study showing that recidivism rates are significantly higher for felons with a formal conviction label than for those convicted of similar crimes who did not receive the felon label.

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  • Freeman, Richard. 2008. Incarceration, criminal background checks, and employment in a low(er) crime society. Criminology and Public Policy 7:405–412.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2008.00517.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A compelling article, part of a larger forum on the use of criminal background checks; highlights the difficulties associated with crafting effective public policy to assist former inmates in securing employment upon release.

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  • Hagan, John, and Alberto Palloni. 1990. The social reproduction of a criminal class in working class London, circa 1950–1980. American Journal of Sociology 96.2: 265–299.

    DOI: 10.1086/229530Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An early study examining the intergenerational transmission of involvement in the criminal justice system. The authors make a compelling argument that stigma and labeling effects explain a substantial proportion of the association between fathers’ and sons’ criminal justice involvement, providing a precursor for the labeling studies that came later.

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  • Kling, Jeffrey R. 2006. Incarceration length, employment, and earnings. American Economic Review 96.3: 863–876.

    DOI: 10.1257/aer.96.3.863Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The rare study that is able to differentiate the effects of incarceration alone from those related to sentence length; Kling finds that there is no additional effect of incarceration on employment and earnings beyond those observed with any incarceration sentence.

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  • Pager, Devah. 2003. The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of Sociology 108.5: 937–975.

    DOI: 10.1086/374403Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Another classic; Pager employs an innovative audit study to convincingly demonstrate that incarceration is a causal factor in subsequent labor market outcomes. The article is also notable in that the effects described appear to also be contingent on race, with African Americans with a criminal conviction doubly disadvantaged.

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  • Western, Bruce. 2002. The impact of incarceration on wage mobility and inequality. American Sociological Review 67:526–546.

    DOI: 10.2307/3088944Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An important study that convincingly demonstrates that an incarceration history reduces later wages and, as a result of black-white differences in the likelihood of imprisonment, contributes to entrenched black-white wage inequalities.

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  • Western, Bruce, and Katherine Beckett. 1999. How unregulated is the US labor market? The penal system as a labor market institution. American Journal of Sociology 104:1030–1060.

    DOI: 10.1086/210135Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An important piece that demonstrates how the prison operates as a hidden institution, artificially deflating the US unemployment rate by removing the unemployed to prison (and thus rendering them uncounted in unemployment statistics).

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If the labor market consequences of incarceration are the first wave of research, then research on family effects surely constitutes an important second wave. A number of articles examine the effects of paternal and maternal incarceration on children and the influence of incarceration on romantic relationships. This area of research is still developing and a number of questions remain unanswered. At present, there appear to be measureable effects of father incarceration on negative outcomes for children (Foster and Hagan 2007, Murray and Farrington 2008, Wildeman 2010). The results for maternal incarceration are much less clear; a number of studies find null or at the least complicated effects of maternal incarceration on children (Cho 2009 is representative). With respect to romantic partners, incarceration tends to break up intact families (Lopoo and Western 2005), though the bias introduced by selection into prison is a substantial challenge to overcome, and the mechanisms through which parental or partner incarceration influences families are difficult to isolate (see, e.g., Massoglia, et al. 2011). The effects of incarceration on the family appear to be wide-ranging, including socioeconomic shifts, mental health and behavioral problems, and assorted other problems. Several excellent qualitative studies of the sheer breadth of effects have also appeared since 2000 (see Braman 2004 and Comfort 2008 for high-quality examples).

  • Braman, Donald. 2004. Doing time on the outside: Incarceration and family life in urban America. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    A wide-ranging and compelling portrait of the multitude of consequences of imprisonment for family life.

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  • Cho, Rosa Minhyo. 2009. Impact of maternal imprisonment on children’s probability of grade retention. Journal of Urban Economics 65:11–23.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jue.2008.09.004Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In a series of studies, Cho demonstrates that the effects of maternal incarceration on children are less consequential than those observed for paternal incarceration.

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  • Comfort, Megan. 2008. Doing time together: Love and family in the shadow of the prison. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226114682.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent and nuanced ethnographic account of the experiences of the romantic partners of inmates.

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  • Foster, Holly, and John Hagan. 2007. Incarceration and intergenerational social exclusion. Social Problems 54.4: 399–433.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.2007.54.4.399Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A broad study of the effects of parental incarceration on children. Notable for its argument that the effects of incarceration are not confined to one domain (e.g., educational attainment) but result in the full-scale exclusion of children of incarcerated parents from social life across a variety of domains.

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  • Lopoo, Leonard M., and Bruce Western. 2005. Incarceration and the formation and stability of marital unions. Journal of Marriage and the Family 67.3: 721–734.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00165.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An early study of the effects of incarceration on marriage and divorce.

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  • Massoglia, Michael, Brianna Remster, and Ryan D. King. 2011. Stigma or separation? Understanding the incarceration-divorce relationship. Social Forces 90.1: 133–155.

    DOI: 10.1093/sf/90.1.133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study that attempts to separate the effects of incarceration stigma from that of the separation induced by incarceration. The authors find that the incarceration-divorce relationship is likely a result of separation from spouses, rather than the stigma imposed by a prison sentence. The results are important because stigma appears to be very important in driving the labor market effects of imprisonment but much less so for marital dissolution.

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  • Murray, Joseph, and David P. Farrington. 2008. Parental imprisonment: Long-lasting effects on boys’ internalizing problems through the life-course. Developmental Psychopathology 20:273–290.

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    An important study linking parental imprisonment to long-term internalizing problems for boys well into adulthood.

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  • Wildeman, Christopher. 2010. Paternal incarceration and children’s physically aggressive behaviors: Evidence from the fragile families and child wellbeing study. Social Forces 89:285–310.

    DOI: 10.1353/sof.2010.0055Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An important study linking paternal imprisonment to aggression in young boys; aggression in young childhood is an important predictor of later delinquency and a host of other problems; thus the study suggests long-term effects of incarceration even if incarceration rates were reduced in the near future.

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As with research on the collateral consequences of incarceration for the family, the health consequences represent an important and active area of research. The effects of incarceration on health are complicated and the mechanisms linking the two are unclear and subject to enormous challenges from selection bias. As with the labor market and the family, incarceration imposes a health cost on former inmates, especially for infectious diseases and other stress-related health problems (Massoglia 2008a), and the effects appear to result from both exposure to the health problems of other inmates (Massoglia 2008a) and the associated stigma that accompanies a felony conviction (Schnittker and John 2007). Also as with the labor market and the family, incarceration is implicated in enduring racial disparities in health (Massoglia 2008b). That said, given the high mortality rates of African Americans outside of prison, incarceration also exerts a short-term protective effect on some high-risk inmates (Patterson 2010). The collateral consequences of incarceration on health thus represent yet another area of research where the effects of incarceration are nuanced and the mechanisms linking the two require substantial additional research attention.

  • Massoglia, Michael. 2008a. Incarceration as exposure: The prison, infectious disease, and other stress-related illnesses. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 49.1: 56–71.

    DOI: 10.1177/002214650804900105Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent article that not only demonstrates the negative health effects of incarceration but also explicates the mechanisms through which incarceration worsens health outcomes. The article is also notable for its level of detail with respect to the use of propensity score models in estimating incarceration effects.

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  • Massoglia, Michael. 2008b. Incarceration, health, and racial health disparities. Law and Society Review 42.2: 275–306.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5893.2008.00342.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent and representative example of research that explicitly links individual-level incarceration effects to macro-level inequality.

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  • Patterson, Evelyn J. 2010. Incarcerating death: Mortality in US state correctional facilities, 1985–1998. Demography 47:587–607.

    DOI: 10.1353/dem.0.0123Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A demographic piece with a nuanced theory component that demonstrates lower mortality rates of African American men while in prison because incarceration buffers them from exposure to high homicide risks while outside of prison.

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  • Schnittker, Jason, and Andrea John. 2007. Enduring stigma: The long-term effects of incarceration on health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 48.2: 115–130.

    DOI: 10.1177/002214650704800202Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Another excellent example of a piece that not only demonstrates an effect of incarceration on health but spends equal time on explaining the mechanism that produces the observed effect.

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Racial Inequality in the Effects of Collateral Consequences

Research findings on the collateral consequences of incarceration need not necessarily depend on the mass incarceration phenomenon in the United States (and, to a lesser extent, in some European countries), but many of the enduring effects of imprisonment depend on both high rates of imprisonment and significant race and class disparities in the likelihood of imprisonment. Blumstein and Beck 1999 provides an early analysis showing that the rise in incarceration was due in large part to imprisonment for drug crimes; these results foreshadow later findings on very large racial disparities in imprisonment (Pettit and Western 2004, Wildeman 2009). Western 2006, Wakefield and Wildeman 2011, and Wakefield and Uggen 2010 provide examples of the degree of racial inequality in wages, earnings, marriage, and childhood well-being that is explained by race differences in imprisonment. Finally, an elegant study, Saperstein and Penner 2010, shows that the very disclosure of an incarceration history increases the likelihood of being perceived as black, imposing subtle and important social costs. The works provide an introduction to the racial implications of high incarceration rates on a host of outcomes, largely driven by the unanticipated or “invisible” consequences of serving time.

  • Blumstein, Alfred, and Allan J. Beck. 1999. Population growth in US prisons, 1980–1996. In Prisons. Edited by Michael Tonry and Joan Petersilia, 17–61. Crime and Justice 26. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An analysis showing increases in the prison system are driven mainly by drug crimes. The results presented here have implications for many of the arguments made by others, particularly as they relate to imprisonment and racial inequality.

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  • Pettit, Becky, and Bruce Western. 2004. Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in US incarceration. American Sociological Review 69:151–169.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240406900201Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent demographic analysis of the overrepresentation of low-education black males in the contemporary prison system. The article shows historical shifts in the racial disparity in imprisonment and the role mass incarceration in the United States plays in the maintenance and reproduction of race and class inequality.

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  • Saperstein, Aliya, and Andrew M. Penner. 2010. The race of a criminal record: How incarceration colors racial perceptions. Social Problems 57:92–113.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.2010.57.1.92Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent study that describes how an incarceration history may produce the kind of effects described in the labor market and family sections. The authors show that disclosure of an incarceration history changes the racial perceptions of both interviewers and respondents, causing both to perceive and report respondents as darker in skin tone relative to those with no incarceration history.

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  • Wakefield, Sara, and Christopher Uggen. 2010. Incarceration and stratification. Annual Review of Sociology 36:387–406.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102551Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A review article describing research linking incarceration to social inequality, detailing a wide variety of outcomes, including in employment, health, family life, and civic engagement.

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  • Wakefield, Sara, and Christopher Wildeman. 2011. Mass imprisonment and racial disparities in childhood behavioral problems. Criminology and Public Policy 10.3: 793–817.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2011.00740.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    One example of a study that concretely links the effects of mass incarceration at the individual level to aggregate-level measures of inequality (in this case, in childhood mental health and behavioral problems).

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  • Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    The must-read work on incarceration and inequality from a foundational scholar in the field. In addition to detailing the effects of incarceration on the labor market and marriage, it includes a lengthy discussion of the causes of the prison boom as well as its contribution to decreased crime rates.

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  • Wildeman, Christopher. 2009. Parental imprisonment, the prison boom, and the concentration of childhood disadvantage. Demography 46.2: 265–280.

    DOI: 10.1353/dem.0.0052Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Similar to Pettit and Western 2004, this piece of research estimates the probability of imprisonment by race and educational attainment of parents for the children of incarcerated parents.

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Balancing the Costs and Benefits of Imprisonment

All of the collateral consequences of incarceration detailed in this article must be balanced against the gains to public safety that result from high incarceration rates. That high incarceration rates resulted in lower crime rates is not a significant source of debate; how much mass incarceration reduced the crime rate is, however. Early estimates suggested substantial gains of increasing incarceration for the crime rate (Levitt 2004), but more recent estimates moderate these earlier estimates (Western 2006) and suggests substantial diminishing returns to ever-increasing incarceration, particularly evident in the mid-1990s (Johnson and Raphael 2012) and even provide examples where higher incarceration rates will increase crime (Clear 2007). The challenge for researchers in this area going forward is to balance the obvious benefits of incarceration for public safety against its potential for creating harm (Sampson 2011).

  • Clear, Todd R. 2007. Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195305791.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A work linking incarceration at the individual level to neighborhood-level effects. Notable for its argument that incarceration effects need not be limited to inmates and their significant others but can be transmitted to others with few connections to the inmate, increasing crime in the process.

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  • Johnson, Rucker, and Steven Raphael. 2012. How much crime reduction does the marginal prisoner buy? Journal of Law and Economics 55:275–310.

    DOI: 10.1086/664073Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent study showing that the benefits of incarceration for public safety have a ceiling effect; the ceiling effect appears to have been reached in the mid-1990s, and further increases in the incarceration rate yielded little benefit for public safety.

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  • Levitt, Steven D. 2004. Understanding why crime fell in the 1990s: Four factors that explain the decline and six that do not. Journal of Economic Perspectives 18.1: 163–190.

    DOI: 10.1257/089533004773563485Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An early and widely cited example linking rising incarceration rates to lower crime in the 1990s.

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  • Sampson, Robert J. 2011. The incarceration ledger: Toward a new era in assessing societal consequences. Criminology and Public Policy 10:819–828.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2011.00756.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay is a commentary on a specific study of parental incarceration but is much more important for its excellent description of the importance of balancing the costs and benefits of incarceration. It presents the most nuanced challenge to date for scholars of collateral consequences to appropriately balance the consequences of incarceration for social life against the obvious and large reductions in crime that result from imprisonment.

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  • Western, Bruce. 2006. Did the prison boom cause the crime drop? In Punishment and inequality in America. By Bruce Western, 168–188. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    A counterpoint to early estimates of the impact of incarceration on crime, suggesting that the reductions in crime are much smaller than originally thought. Also notable in its review of prior estimates of the crime reduction effects of mass incarceration and its accessibility to a broad audience.

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