Theses Doctoral

The Negative Health Consequences for and Impacts of Incarceration on Partners and Children: Predicting Greater Negative Impact and More Harmful Mental Health Consequences for Partners of the Incarcerated

Williams, Shameika Niasia

Mass incarceration is a public health issue that impacts millions of Americans. Draconian drug laws, over-policing, and unfair sentencing policies rooted in racism have led to the incarceration of millions of Black and Latinx people in the past four decades. Mass incarceration not only has collateral consequences for the health of the incarcerated, but also fortheir partners and children across multiple dimensions.

This cross-sectional study recruited participants using social media, email, and text messages. Those who identified as Black or Latinx, age 20 or older, and who had a partner who was incarcerated for at least three months were eligible for study participation. The study was novel in asking for ratings of physical and mental/emotional health for four time periods: before their partner’s incarceration, after their partner’s incarceration, the year after their partner’s release, and “now”/currently. Results showed significant declines in both physical and mental/emotional health (e.g., a decline in ratings for during their partner’s incarceration from the pre-incarceration level), as well as improvements (e.g., improvement for the period “now”/currently from the during incarceration level).

Also, when rating their children for the same four time periods for physical health, mental/emotional health, behavioral conduct, and school performance, a similar pattern of both declines and improvements was found. Findings argued for the importance of a methodology using multiple time periods for obtaining ratings, and for a resilience framework to accommodate interpretation of improvements. Further, having a greater number of children, being currently employed, having a lower income, and a lower rating of mental health during their partner’s incarceration were four significant predictors found in the regression models for both study outcome variables: i.e., (1) a higher negative impact from a partner’s incarceration on multiple dimensions; and (2) more harmful mental health consequences for partners of the incarcerated.

Findings provided evidence for an especially underserved at-risk subset within the population of diverse male and female partners of the incarcerated: i.e., Black and Latinx women with a high number of children who are employed yet earning low wages—while suffering from severe mental health symptoms. Implications of the findings and recommendations are discussed.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Wallace, Barbara C.
Fullilove, Robert
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023