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Unintended Impacts of Sentencing Guidelines on Family Structure, Revised Technical Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2000
116 pages
This federally funded report studied the potential impacts of sentencing reforms and incarceration on the family structure. The problem was examined from various angles to understand the causal relationships between male withdrawal from productive areas of the economy and resulting changes in the community and families.
Funded and supported by U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, this study examined potential adverse impacts on families due to sentencing reforms and resulting incarceration. The main hypothesis of the study was that when there was an increase in incarceration due to changes in sentencing policies the supply of marriageable men was depleted causing an increase in female-headed families. To assess the impacts of incarceration and/or reforms on family structure and stability, different data sets, as well as a variety of statistical methods were used. In using these different data sets and statistical measures, three research models were designed to test the hypothesis. In Module A, the flow of inmates within a specific geographic area was examined to see how it contributed to individual probabilities of family disruption. The analysis for Module A merged the Urban Institute’s Underclass Database (UDB), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data set, and the National Correctional Reporting Program (NCRP) data set for counties. Module B was interested in whether sentencing reforms affected mate availability and/or female family headship. It examined the effects of statewide incarceration and sentencing changes on marriage markets and family structure. Lastly, Module C focused on a single State that had undergone major and puntatively successful sentencing reform. This analysis looked at the State of Minnesota and interviewed a random sample of 500 inmates about their family backgrounds, children, and marital relations. Results of the three modules supported parts of the underlying hypothesis that imprisonment increased female-headed families. However, there were no strong or significant indicators of the adverse impacts of sentencing reforms on family structures despite strong and consistent evidence that lower supplies of marriageable men were associated with higher incidences of female-headed families. Appendices, tables, and references

Date Published: January 1, 2000