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