How Mass Incarceration Pushes Black Children Further Behind in School
A new study shows that the disproportionate imprisonment rates faced by people of color contribute to race-based inequalities in educational attainment.
In the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the closing remarks at the March on Washington. More than 200,000 people gathered to cast a national spotlight on and mobilize resistance to Jim Crow, racist laws and policies that disenfranchised black Americans and mandated segregated housing, schools, and employment. Today, more than 50 years later, remnants of Jim Crow segregation persist in the form of mass incarceration—the imprisonment of millions of Americans, overwhelmingly and disproportionately black adults, in local, state, and federal prisons.
The U.S. incarceration rate is more than five times higher than that in most of the world’s nations, despite a crime rate that’s comparable to other politically stable, industrialized countries. And among the swelling number of incarcerated men and women is a vast number of parents. In 2015, The Atlantic’s Alia Wong highlighted a study from Child Trends that found that one in nine black children has had a parent in jail or prison, about twice as high as that for white children. For black adolescents ages 12 through 17, it’s nearly one in seven. Predictably, this has implications for America’s classrooms.
In a new report, researchers from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI) argue that mass incarceration is a chief contributor to the racial gaps in academic performance between black and white students. The study outlines a wide array of adverse effects for children of incarcerated parents and underscores how criminal-justice policy and education policy are linked.
“Education policymakers and many educators continue to insist that in order to narrow the achievement gap, we must tinker with what is happening in the classroom … improve the way schools are functioning,” said the EPI research associate Leila Morsy, the report’s co-author and a lecturer at the University of New South Wales. “[Yet] making changes to criminal-justice policy can make as much, if not more, of a difference [for children].”
Acknowledging that a significant body of research already exists on the discriminatory system that incarcerates black men at six times the rate of white men, and about 2.5 times the How Mass Incarceration Contributes to the Achievement Gap - The Atlantic: