Racial Inequalities to Imprisoned Individuals in the U.S.

Christopher Wildeman
Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University

Key Findings

  • 44% of Black women and 32% of Black men have a family member imprisoned.
  • About one in four women in the United States currently has a family member in prison.
  • Black women have anywhere from 5.00 to 8.45 as many prisoners in their social networks as do White women, while the Black-White gap for men ranges from 3.63 to 10.33.
  • Connectedness to prisoners is far less common for White men (6%) and White women (12%).


In the article, “Racial Inequalities in Connectedness to Imprisoned Individuals in the United States”, Wildeman and his co-authors use the 2006 General Social Survey to examine the harmful spillover effects of mass imprisonment on families, children, and neighborhood. Their findings provide national estimates of connectedness – through friends, family and neighbors – to prisoners for Black and White men and women. Their findings suggest that being connected to a prisoner is quite common for Black men and women, with Black women especially likely to have a family member currently imprisoned and Black men especially likely to have someone they trust currently imprisoned. Black men and women are also more likely than Whites to be connected to multiple prisoners, suggesting these connections could place a heavy burden on their social networks, with a host of negative implications for them.

View Full Research