This article presents research on the consequences of mass imprisonment for childhood inequality. It investigates average and race-specific effects of paternal and maternal incarceration on the risk of child homelessness, using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The results suggest that (1) recent paternal but not maternal incarceration substantially increases the risk of child homelessness, (2) effects are concentrated among African American children, and (3) increases in familial economic hardship and decreases in access to institutional support explain some of the relationship.
Taken together, the findings indicate the prison boom was likely a key driver of the growing racial disparities in child homelessness, increasing black-white inequality in this risk by 65 percent since the 1970s. When coupled with the other effects of mass imprisonment on childhood inequality, these results suggest that the prison boom will likely lead to far greater black-white inequality in civic and political participation, as the children of the prison boom come of age.