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Imprisonment and Infant Mortality

Christopher Wildeman
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2012.59.2.228 228-257 First published online: 1 May 2012


This article extends research on the consequences of parental incarceration for child well-being, the effects of mass imprisonment on black-white inequalities in child well-being, and the factors shaping black-white inequalities in infant mortality by considering the relationship between imprisonment and infant mortality, using individual- and state-level data from the United States, 1990 through 2003. Results using data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) show that parental incarceration is associated with elevated early infant mortality risk and that partner violence moderates this relationship. Infants of recently incarcerated fathers who are not abusive have twice the mortality risk of other infants, but there is no association if the father was abusive. Results from state-level analyses show a positive association between the imprisonment rate and the total infant mortality rate, black infant mortality rate, and black-white inequality in the infant mortality rate. Assuming a causal effect, results show that had the imprisonment rate remained at its 1990 level, the 2003 infant mortality rate would have been 3.9 percent lower, black-white inequality in the infant mortality rate 8.8 percent lower. Thus, results imply that imprisonment may have health consequences that extend beyond ever-imprisoned men to their social correlates and that these health spillover effects are not limited to infectious disease.

  • mass imprisonment
  • parental incarceration
  • infant mortality
  • health disparities
  • population health

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