Wakefield

Sara Wakefield

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
Areas of Expertise:
  • Children & Families
  • Criminal Justice
  • Race & Ethnicity

About Sara

Wakefield’s research and teaching is focused on the consequences of the prison boom for families, with an emphasis on childhood wellbeing and family functioning. Her recent work examines how the incarceration of a father increases mental health and behavioral problems among their children. This line of work also draws connections between massive increases in the prison population over the last four decades and harms for a generation of vulnerable children – in this case, the prison boom has contributed to a widening gap in wellbeing between black and white children. In other work, Wakefield is an investigator on a multi-disciplinary, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development-funded (Research Program Project) study of human capital interventions during childhood and adolescence. Her research is focused on the congruence (or “fit”) between substance use prevention policies and the developmental needs of children and youth.

Podcast

Publications

"Incarceration and Stratification" (with Christopher Uggen). Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010): 387-406.
Reviews the literature linking mass incarceration in the United States to race and class stratification, arguing that the prison has become a “stratifying institution” not unlike schools or the labor market in structuring life chances. The work reviews links between imprisonment and labor market, family, health, and civic engagement outcomes.
"Mass Imprisonment and Racial Disparities in Childhood Behavioral Problems" (with Christopher Wildeman). Criminology & Public Policy 10, no. 3 (2011): 793-817.
Demonstrates how paternal imprisonment increases mental health and behavioral problems such as aggression, anxiety, or depression. It then leverages demographic estimates of the racial disparity in the likelihood of having a father imprisoned to estimate the contribution of the U.S. prison boom over the last four decades to racial disparities in child wellbeing.
Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality (with Christopher Wildeman) (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Shows how paternal imprisonment increases mental health and behavioral problems, infant mortality, and homelessness among children. It then leverages demographic estimates of the racial disparity in the likelihood of having a father imprisoned to estimate the contribution of the U.S. prison boom over the last four decades to racial disparities in child wellbeing.

In the News

Sara Wakefield's research on the effects of parental incarceration discussed in Erik EckholmSara Wakefield, "In Prisoner’s Wake, A Tide of Troubled Children," New York Times, July 5, 2009.
Sara Wakefield's research on recidivism and California’s “realignment” plan discussed in Salvador Hernandez and Sean EmerySara Wakefield, "State to Begin Sending Inmates to O.C.," Orange County Register, September 29, 2011.
Sara Wakefield's research on recidivism rates discussed in Lauren KeiperSara Wakefield, "More than 40 Percent of Ex-Cons Return to Jail," Reuters, April 14, 2011.
Guest to discuss the Seal Beach shooting on Southern California Public Radio, Sara Wakefield, October 26, 2011.