Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Anderson, Elijah


Increasing rates of parental incarceration in the U.S. are implications of a changing society for Black children and their families. Yet, very little is known ethnographically about the experiences of families with arrested and incarcerated parents. This study uses urban ethnographic methods to understand the contextual and social factors for families of the incarcerated, from the perspectives of poor Black families experiencing incarceration. I argue that the arrest of a parent initiates a powerful ripple effect that occurs within families, communities, and other social institutions. The arrest is often just the beginning of complicated interactions with the criminal system. This manuscript is organized into chapters that represent the stages of incarceration within family life. The dissertation begins with an overview on mass incarceration and families. Chapter 2 illustrates the ripple effect that occurs when the police arrest and incarcerate poor Black families. Chapter 3 explores presentence and post sentence visiting for families with incarcerated loved ones. Chapter 4 examines family experiences during pre-trial and trial court hearings. The final chapter offers a discussion with implications for policymakers to better support families of the incarcerated. National and local policy makers can use findings and recommendations from this dissertation to evaluate the long-term social consequences and collateral damages of mass incarceration on Black family life. A broader impact of this project is social change for Black children and families