Research percentage of female head of households (Gover

Research Question

In an effort to understand the mechanisms by which institutional
oppression persists, one has to recognize the ideological force that propels it
and the contributing intersections that complicate it. The racial health
disparities that exist and are maintained in the United States operate as a
form of systematic oppression, whereby social and political ideology shape its
existence and intersectionality creates a seemingly impenetrable web of
complexity. Yet, what lies at this intersection may be pivotal in facilitating
definitive liberation.  An unfolding
phenomenon that has significant implications for the health and well-being of
racial/ethnic minority populations is that of mass incarceration.

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Mass imprisonment refers to the substantial
sociohistorical increase and concentration of incarceration experienced since
the 1970’s in the United States (Foster & Hagan, 2015). This phenomenon has
disproportionately affected the lives of people of color and their families.
The rate of imprisonment for African American males is seven times that of
their White male counterparts. Moreover, the rates of parental incarceration
are furthermore unevenly distributed by race and ethnicity, with 6.7%-11% of African
American children currently experiencing paternal incarceration, as compared to
2.4%-3.5% for Hispanic children and 0.9%-1.75% for White children (Foster &
Hagan, 2015). It raises the question how the development and growth of a prison
population of 2.3 million has impacted the millions of children who suffer from
this form of family disruption. Furthermore, it raises the question what causes
the racial disparity within this phenomenon.

The significant impacts of family disruption on
children and community functioning have been researched in terms of a
standardized measure of concentrated
disadvantage. This measure captures variables including percentage of the
Black population, percentage of persons living in poverty, the percentage of
the population that is unemployed, and the percentage of female head of
households (Gover & MacDonald, 2005). Female household headship is a
variable of particular interest, as the phenomenon of mass incarceration may
play a part in creating a significant increase in female-headed households.

In an effort to begin untangling the complex web that
explains the structural constructs of this institution, this literature review
aims to understand a theoretical framework, in which female-headed family structure
is a possible mechanism whereby mass incarceration has implications for a
specific negative child health outcome among African Americans: youth homicide

Significance of the Problem for Public Health

            Youth homicide victimization carries
a significant public health impact, as homicide is the third leading cause of
death among people ages 10 to 24 years old (CDC, 2014). This statistic carries
even more weight, when considering that homicide victimization serves as the
number one cause of death among African American youth (CDC, 2014). This health
outcome has important implications on the varying ecological levels.

At the microsystemic level, parental and familial characteristics
contribute significantly to the occurrence of homicide victimization among
youth, by establishing family stabilization and effective role modeling (Lynch
& Sabol, 2004). On a societal level, there overarching social constructs,
such as concentrated disadvantage, that can contribute to and explain noted
disparities in youth homicide victimization. Examining the multilevel effects
of homicide among youth can begin to given insight into associated roots cause,
so as to intervene and mitigate negative health outcomes among this population.

            When considering the proposed
mechanism by which the disparity in youth homicide exists, the phenomenon of
mass incarceration also serves as an important public health issue that has
roots embedded in a racial discrepancy, as well. There are historical and
political implications that need to be considered, in order to understand and
address the ways in which clinicians and public health professionals can
prevent the negative health outcomes of mass incarceration that result from
issues such as, felon disenfranchisement. “Through a web of laws, regulations,
and informal rules, all of which are powerfully reinforced by social stigma,
felons are confined to the margins of mainstream society and denied access to
mainstream economy. They are legally denied the ability to obtain employment,
housing, public benefits, and jury service” (Alexander). This
disenfranchisement represents a critical barrier for felons to obtain optimal
health once released from prison, which can culminate into homelessness,
starvation, and the development of infectious and chronic diseases. These
considerable effects of incarceration transfer to the families of incarcerated
individuals or released convicts, and create similar negative manifestations.

In recognizing potential intersections between the public
health issues of youth homicide victimization and mass imprisonment, it may be
quite possible that the underlying causes are similar and can be remedied
simultaneously. The following studies have been reviewed in order to begin to
understand these potential intersections.





Results and Study Critiques

and Ethnic Disparities in Structural Disadvantage and Crime: White, Black and
Hispanic Comparisons

            Ulmer and colleagues (2012) investigate
the racial/ethnic disparities in violence and hypothesize the structural
sources of these disparities, with an ecological study that finds considerable heterogeneity
in levels of homicide and violent index crime across White, Black, and Hispanic
groups in New York and California. Furthermore, this study assesses independent
structural disadvantage predictors, including poverty, unemployment, and female
headship, finding that mean Black (18.62) and Hispanic (18.93) poverty levels
are greater than twice that of their White counterparts. Moreover, Black female
headship levels were found to be three times that of White female headship.

Comparing these gaps in homicide and violent crime to
the disparities found in the disadvantage predictors, the researchers find
significant associations, with the White-Black gap in violence being most
reflective of the White-Black gaps in poverty and female headship.

            These findings provide a
foundational look into the structural factors shaping disadvantages in homicide
and violent crime. The independent structural disadvantage gaps assessed in
this study are found to have a significant impact on the gaps in homicide and
violence, yet do not fully explain the disadvantage experienced by each
racial/ethnic group. There is much variation that remains unexplained, relevant
to cultural and social organization differences. When considering the similar
levels of poverty among the Black and Hispanic populations assessed, there may
be cultural protective factors that can explain the White-Hispanic disparity in
violent crime being less significant than the White-Black gap.

Inequality and Homicide: An Assessment of the Black-White Gap in Killings

            Velez et al (2003) examines the
specific relationship between race and violent crime, by directly modeling the
racial groups in homicide offending for 126 central cities in the United
States. Black-White disparities in both, resource availability and economic
disadvantage, are assessed, in order to explain the widened gap in lethal

            This study found significant racial differences
in disadvantage across the central cities assessed. The Black-White gap in
female-headed households range from 2% among White households and 34% among
African Americans. Furthermore, the calculated median income gap in estimated
at $10,000. As well, Whites have a higher college graduation rate, exceeding
Blacks by 14.2%. And, in regards to employment, Whites have 9.1% more
professional workers within the assessed cities and a managerial employment
rate of 29.1%, as compared to -1.6% found among Blacks. Based on this analysis,
it is interpreted that observed racial differences in violence reflect the
greater advantages of Whites over Black, as significant contributors to the gap
in lethal violence.

            To fully understand to scope of
racial differentiation in homicide offending in the United States, separate
models have to be developed to compare Black and White homicide incidents
across space and time. The particular study is limited in its approach to
capture more salient information regarding homicide trends, with an assessment
confined to one year of analysis. Furthermore, historical accounts also play a
role in interpreting structural inequality in homicide rates, at a particular
point in time. Thus, in considering homicide rates and the existing disparities
in 1990, potential political or social climates have to be considered, as well.

Segregation, the Concentration of Disadvantage, and Black and White Homicide

            Understanding a form of
discrimination that has potential ties to the concentration of disadvantage
serves to paint of picture indicative of associated societal and cultural constructs.
In the present study, Krivo and Peterson (1999) take an initial examination of
concentrated disadvantage created and sustained through residential
segregation, as a predictor of Black-White homicide disparities.

            The study found that individual
components of group disadvantage and concentrated disadvantage indices are substantially
higher for African Americans than Whites (Krivo & Peterson 1999). Moreover,
Krivo and Peterson found that level of poverty and female-headed family
structure are significant measures of concentrated disadvantage that are
associated with homicide occurrence. Furthermore, this study lends insight to
the impact of segregation on concentrated disadvantage, by discovering strong
effects of institutional discriminatory housing practices on the existence and
persistence of economic deprivation in African American communities. To this
end, further analyses among the selected metropolitan statistical areas show
that the variables of concentrated disadvantage have a significant impact on
black homicide, over the 1980-1990 decade. Overall, this study posits that the
impact of segregation on black homicide can be explained by concentrated
disadvantage, although not equally so across time.

This time variable contributes to the difficulty in
understanding how certain violent criminal trends change throughout time, and
how time impacts the association between societal constructs and negative
health outcomes. For example, within this study, the overall impact of racial
segregation on homicide victimization among African Americans declines over the
1980-1990 time period assessed. Yet, the effects of concentrated disadvantage
expression in the regression modeling increase. This results with the inclusion
of the concentrated disadvantage variable reducing the influence of segregation
on black homicide to zero, only for 1990. This raises the question of whether
the impact of racial segregation diminishes due to separate forces that
heighten concentrated disadvantage or whether the adaptive response to
discriminatory housing processes over time attenuate the association between
the dependent and independent variables.

Racial/Ethnic Concentration, Social Disadvantage, and Homicide Risk: An
Ecological Analysis of 10 U.S. Cities

In this ecological analysis, Jones-Webb and Wall
(2008) investigate how neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics associated,
specifically, with forms of social disadvantage can provide insight into
homicide gaps from 2003-2005.

This study revealed results consistent with
surrounding literature and studies reviewed in this literature review, showing
a relationship between neighborhood racial/ethnic concentration and homicide,
when considering specific social disadvantage variables. The variables:
unemployment rate, percent persons with less that a high school education,
median household income, and percent female head of household each attenuated
the relationship significantly (Jones-Webb and Wall, 2008). The relative risk
of homicide victimization was reduced by 43% (1.23 to 1.13) after incorporating
the aggregated variable into the model. Among these variables, the relationship
between African American and homicide was attenuated mostly significantly by
percent female head of household – more than that of any other indicator
establishing a relationship between a racial/ethnic group and homicide.

An important consideration of this ecological analysis
is the impact of geography. Given that this study used multilevel (individual
and neighborhood level) data to predict the risks of homicide victimization,
such an approach may not include those at the greatest risk, because this data
relies on probability sampling of the general population to identify homicide
victims. Furthermore, the 10 cities chosen for analysis had population sizes
that did not exceed one million persons. Therefore, the study results are
limited in generalizability, to only neighborhoods in cities with under one
million persons. 

Income Equality, Concentrated Disadvantage and Homicide

            Expounding upon the analysis of
geography, Arnold & Wang (2008) sought to extend the understanding of the
concentrated disadvantage measure by creating a localized index of income
inequality, which captures the relative deprivation at a local scale and the
stresses felt by disadvantaged individuals. This multidimensional measure makes
for a stronger predictor of homicide in the three areal units of analysis in
Chicago and urban areas alike, after controlling for socioeconomic status and
job accessibility. Given the contextual addition to this measurement, the
effect of concentrated disadvantage, from a sociological perspective, is more
pronounced and more salient for understanding the theoretical frameworks by
which homicide disparities are shaped.

            When considering what make this
measurement unique, there may also be limitations to its applicability. As with
any ecological analysis, there is the potential for ecological fallacy. Given
that the localized index of income inequality takes into consideration the
perceptions of disadvantage individuals, there is the opportunity for the
concentrated disadvantage variable to misrepresent the perceptions of relative
deprivation felt by the study population. Furthermore, adding this dimension to
the formulation of the concentrated disadvantage may create discrepancies due
to varying mental health and personality characteristics.

Disadvantage and Youth-on-Youth Homicide: Assessing Covariates Over Time

The following study recognizes stark growth in youth
homicides from mid-1980s to early 1990s, and sought to understand the social
ecological factors contributing to this unprecedented rise. Specifically, Gover
& MacDonald (2005) estimate the influence of structural indicators – family
poverty, labor market structure, and family disruption – on youth-specific
homicide rates and their change over time. They examine the cross-sectional and
temporal nature of this relationship.

The researchers found that the youth-on-youth homicide
rate was significantly lower in the 1980 to 1984 time period, signifying the
rise in youth homicide incidents during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (t =
–8.04; p < .05). Furthermore, there was also a significantly lower concentrated disadvantage index in 1980 compared to 1990 (t = –4.47; p < .05). Measurements outside of concentrated disadvantage were taken to assess the significance of divorce measures, municipal government structure, and strength of police force on the incidence of youth-specific homicide.  And, the researchers found that regional variations, such as those mentioned above indicated little impact on youth-on-youth homicide. Rather, structural indicators, characterized by economic deprivation and family structure, explained patterns in youth homicide across this span of time (Gover & MacDonald, 2005).             Considering the focus on structural variables and there contributing impact on youth homicide, the researcher of the study emphasized how the relationship between social ecological factors and youth homicide possibly occur due to diminishing and/or ineffective informal social control practices, such as parental or adult supervision within communities (Gover & MacDonald, 2005). Thus, concentrated disadvantage variables heighten the potential for diminishing informal social controls, which in turn increases the likelihood of violent crime. Operating under this framework, this study was limited in its ability to directly capture ineffective social controls, as there was not a specific measure for it. Therefore, future studies will be more effective at establishing direct correlations, if social control practices can be measured for individuals and families. Deindustrialization, Female-Headed Households, and Black and White Juvenile Homicide Rates, 1970-1990             Examining the impact of concentrated disadvantage from a different lens, the following study looks at female-household headship, specifically, as an indicator of juvenile homicide, as opposed to the aggregated measure of concentrated disadvantage. Ousey (2000) assesses the effect of change in economic deprivation on the change in juvenile rate, and determines if this relationship is mediated by the change in female headship that emerged due to deindustrialization.             What he finds is that the decline in stable, well-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector increased juvenile homicide rates indirectly, by first increasing rates of economic deprivation and female-headed households in 121 cities in the United States. The researcher also explores the racial differences of this dynamic, with data indicating an increase in economic deprivation among both Black and White populations examined during the twenty-year span. Yet, Black families experience a marked increase in female-headed households by a margin significantly greater than White families. Furthermore, the researcher indicated a White-Black disparity in homicides rates, albeit both populations experienced significant rise in juvenile homicide. Overall, the researcher posits that the impact of deindustrialization on juvenile homicide was more pronounced for Black families, when considering the presence and increase in female headship (Ousey, 2000).             Within this study, it is, again, important to recognize contextual factors relevant to societal and/or political changes – changes that could confound the findings within the study. While the researcher does control for average public assistance per household, the impact of education level on economic deprivation, racial heterogeneity, regional variabilities, and the rise in illicit-drug markets, it may be reasonable to assess the decrease in desirability for marriage as an explanation for the rise in female headship, for example. Punishment Regimes and the Multilevel Effects of Parental Incarceration: Intergenerational, Intersectional, and Interinstitutional Models of Social Inequality and System Inclusion             The following study reviews the direct links between parental imprisonment and child outcomes, and furthermore, addresses mediators and moderators of these associations. Moreover, Foster & Hagan (2015) discuss meso- and macro-level sources of variation that contribute to exogenous roles in shaping and structuring the effects of parental imprisonment.             Through the development of a multilevel social exclusion framework, the researchers establish that macro-level punishment regimes, such as felon disenfranchisement, punitive indices, and concentrated disadvantage have an intergenerational, interinstitutional, and intersectional impact on child inequality. Furthermore, meso-level regimes such as, school disciplinary policies and delinquency levels, can also contribute to child inequality (Foster & Hagan, 2015). Individual or micro-level dividends are incorporated into the framework as mediating and moderating influences, as well. These include education levels, behavioral problems, and family resources serving as mediators, and gender and race/ethnicity serving as moderators. Through the examination of each regime, the researchers establish a meaningful association between parental incarceration and child inequality. Furthermore, the regimes give insight to a mechanism assessing impacts of incarceration from the broadest systematic level, inward.             When considering the analytic model adapted for this study, it is chosen to assess paternal and maternal incarceration simultaneously, creating a parental incarceration factor for analysis. And, while doing so may prove to be beneficial in constructing a multi-tiered social exclusion framework, it may also be advisable to disaggregate these variables, when considering the outcomes that are more pronounced in association with either paternal or maternal incarceration. Summary of Findings across Studies The primary link between each of these ecological studies is the underlying sociological theory: social disorganization. Under the social disorganization theory, it is explained that neighborhood ecological and socioeconomic characteristics can create undesirable conditions that lead to high homicide rates (Lynch & Sabol, 2004). In understanding the disproportionate rates of homicides in communities of color, Lynch & Sabol (2004) posit that there first has to be an understanding of how social control in these communities are disrupted. There are models of positive and negative effects of mass imprisonment on social control functioning in neighborhoods. Among the negative impact models, researchers, including those of the studies above, show effects such as: labor force detachment for African American men, an increase in financial stress resulting in poorer family maintenance, and a reduction in the marriageability of men fostering more female-headed households. As this theory has been adapted in many studies on youth homicide victimization, the association between female household headship and youth homicide has been the most pronounced among African Americans. In addressing the present research question, the social disorganization theory may serves as a framework for other systems of disadvantage, including the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Conclusions and Recommendations for Future Research             Underneath each of these race-specific negative health outcomes are cultural and societal influences that shape how and why these disparities exist. In an effort to promote equity and be true to the promise of freedom in this country, systems of oppression have to be researched and addressed. "When prejudice and discrimination segregate blacks from whites, and concentrate high levels of black disadvantage that results from differential treatment in other institutional spheres, this sets in motion patterns of community disorganization and diminished social control that have deadly consequences for African Americans" (Lynch & Sabol, 2004) . As it stands, the relationship between the current phenomenon of mass incarceration and female headship is not fully understood. Furthermore, how this relationship relates to youth homicide incidence also needs to be further researched.  Yet, as we consider the substantial literature establishing correlations between female headship and youth homicide among African Americans – as well as the significant impact of mass imprisonment on Black families – it is worth examining the intersections of these pivotal public health issues.