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Nearly half of Americans have had a family member jailed, imprisoned


shadowy prison hallway lined with bars

credit: Rawf8/Adobe Stock

By Susan Kelley for the Cornell Chronicle

In a groundbreaking Cornell-led study illuminating the extensive scope of mass incarceration in the U.S., nearly 1 in 2 Americans have had a brother or sister, parent, spouse or child spend time in jail or prison – a far higher figure than previously estimated.

The study is the first to accurately measure the share of Americans – 45 percent – who have ever had an immediate family member jailed or imprisoned for one night or more. The researchers had assumed they would find half that rate.

“The core takeaway is family member incarceration is even more common than any of us – all of whom are experts in the field – had anticipated,” said Christopher Wildeman, professor of policy analysis and management and a co-author of the study, which appeared March 4 in Socius.

“This really is an issue that affects all of society,” added lead author Peter Enns, associate professor of government. Their Cornell co-authors are doctoral candidates Youngmin Yi, M.A. ’16, and Alyssa Goldman ’07, M.A. ’16.

The figures are even higher for African-Americans and people with low education levels; for those groups, nearly 3 in 5 have had an immediate family member incarcerated, the team found. And siblings were the most common immediate family member to be incarcerated, the researchers said – another surprise finding – and a trend about which not much is known.

“Having an immediate family member in prison instead of in the home can have a major effect on a person and can be extremely disruptive,” said Enns.

Portrait of Christopher Wildeman

Christopher Wildeman

“This survey really shows who the victims of mass incarceration are: the folks who have to manage households and grow up absent a loved one,” said Wildeman, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

More-advantaged groups are not immune to the trend, the study found. While college-educated whites experience family incarceration at a much lower rate than the less-educated and people of color, 1 in 6 – 15 percent – have had that experience. “That breaks pretty sharply from the standard narrative that we’ve heard in the research community and in popular discourse, about how white, college-educated folks are completely insulated from those risks,” said Wildeman. “And, indeed, this provides further evidence that mass incarceration is a profoundly American phenomenon and something that we as a society must confront together.”

Even though all groups are affected, education does somewhat insulate whites from having a family member imprisoned. As their level of education goes up, their level of incarcerated family members goes down.

But that is much less true for African-Americans; the chances an African-American will have a family member jailed or imprisoned stays about the same even if she is well-educated. About 70 percent of people who didn’t finish high school have had a family member incarcerated; it’s 71 percent for those with a high school equivalent; and 55 percent for those who have a college education.

“This survey really shows who the victims of mass incarceration are: the folks who have to manage households and grow up absent a loved one.”
-Christopher Wildeman, professor of policy analysis and management and BCTR director

The research, which grew out of a theme project sponsored by Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences, is the first to capture both jail time and prison time for family members. And it represents people who are often overlooked in national surveys – such as young adults, households with a low socio-economic status, those without internet access and Spanish speakers – thanks to study’s design: participants were able to take the survey online or by phone, in English or in Spanish.

The researchers asked a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 people whether members of their immediate family (a parent, sibling, spouse or domestic partner, stepsiblings or foster family) or extended family (including grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews or in-laws) have ever been held in jail or prison for a night or more, and for how long.

The participants were also asked follow-up questions about their experiences with and opinions of the police and the criminal justice system, health and well-being, civic and political engagement, and drug and alcohol use.

The researchers will dig into that data in later studies – and they invite other researchers to do so as well. They’ve made their data publicly available via Cornell’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, of which Enns is executive director, to allow others to both see what else the data show and confirm the findings for themselves.

The researchers hope the study will destigmatize the incarceration of family members.

“I hope that it will help folks see that this is more a structural issue than a behavioral one,” Wildeman said. “And I hope that it would drive home just how much more we can learn when we do the work to get surveys that explicitly focus on crime and criminal justice contact.”

The study was co-written by researchers from Research Triangle International; Washington University, St. Louis; University of California, Berkeley; Rutgers University; and Yale University. It was funded by FWD.us, a nonprofit focusing on immigration and criminal justice.

Study: Nearly half of Americans have had a family member jailed, imprisoned - Cornell Chronicle

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Chris Wildeman    family    incarceration    medial mention    research   

Anna Lifsec is Berns Research Award recipient


portrait of Anna Lifsec
Anna Lifsec

by Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Sophomore Anna Lifsec ILR ’21 was awarded the Roberta M. Berns ’65 Memorial Research Award for her research on vulnerable children, especially those involved with the foster care system or whose parents are involved with the criminal justice system. The award - given by the BCTR - will fund Lifsec’s work during the 2019-20 school year.

As the Berns Research Award recipient, Anna will work with a faculty mentor to conduct studies on the intergenerational effects of mass incarceration and the experiences of youth transitioning out of child protective services and the criminal justice system.

Lifsec is a sophomore majoring in industrial labor relations with minors in economics and crime, prison, education and justice. She is also the co-chair of policy and public outreach for Cornell’s Prison Reform Education Project.

“Anna is an exceptional talent in terms of both her research preparation and her intelligence,” said Christopher Wildeman, Lifsec’s research advisor, a professor of policy, analysis and management and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. “As just a sophomore, her research skills and read of the literatures on mass incarceration and the foster care system far surpasses what I would expect in an advanced graduate student. I simply cannot imagine a student who will better use this award, and I am incredibly grateful that the generosity of the Berns family has made it possible for us to give such a significant award to a Cornell undergraduate.”

Lifsec is planning to work on three separate studies as the Berns Research Award recipient. The first will use technology to check in with youth in the six months before and after they leave state care. For the second, she will analyze data on how family incarceration history affects relationships among family members and well-being. The third will investigate how parents of young children involved in the foster care system interact with school personnel.

“I feel very fortunate to be receiving an award that will allow me to continue investigating critical issues around important topics of injustice and inequality in American society today,” Lifsec said. “The intergenerational effects of mass incarceration as well as the struggles that system-involved parents and children experience are very salient and pervasive in our culture and disproportionately affect communities based on race and socioeconomic status. I hope to remedy some of these injustices through my research and am incredibly grateful that the Roberta Berns Research Award will give me the resources to continue to work towards answering critical questions and developing productive solutions to these problems.”

(1) Comment.  |   Tags: award    Christopher Wildeman    incarceration    research    students   

Getting youth to drink water, not sugar


young man drinking a bottle of water with the text "drink water." Text at the bottom "Make the healthy choice. Give your body the water it needs" NY State Department of HealthResearchers from the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research helped inform new public service advertisements created by the New York Department of Health to educate youth about the dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Researchers working on the ACT for Youth project conducted two rounds of focus groups in the summer/fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 to test possible messages that would encourage young minority males to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.

“The story demonstrates our ability to conduct research with youth across the state in order to help NYSDOH better serve and reach youth, ultimately helping—we hope-- to improve health,” said Karen Schantz, the communications coordinator for ACT For Youth.

A significant number of youth drink sugary beverages regularly. In one study conducted from 2011-2014, more than 60 percent of adolescent boys drank a sugar-sweetened beverage each day. This is alarming considering there is clear evidence that these beverages are associated with obesity, poor dental health and other health problems.

Amanda Purington, the director of evaluation and research for ACT for Youth, managed the focus groups. In them, groups of adolescent boys from western and central New York answered questions about the definition of “sugary” beverages and how much they consumed, and then evaluated sample ads created to encourage youth to avoid sweetened beverages.

“Many of the young people we talked with thought that sports drinks were healthy drinks and if they engaged in an athletic endeavor, they needed to drink them to replace electrolytes,” Purington said. “So, unfortunately, the marketing by the sports drink companies is working! On the whole, the youth were surprised by the amount of sugar in sports drinks because they really thought they were healthy drinks.”

Youth preferred ads with information, such as the amount of sugar in different kinds of sugary drinks. The most well-received ads struck a balance between providing information and delivering that information in a clear, concise – and often visual – way.

“They also liked having alternatives suggested, like ‘quench your thirst with water instead,’” she said. “But they didn’t just want to be told what to do, they wanted to come to their own conclusions.

“They also wisely acknowledged that a media campaign like this might lead to some short-term behavior change, but may not lead to long-term behavior change, especially in communities where sugary beverages are ingrained in the culture.”

The New York State Department of Health’s media campaign is now live.

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: ACT for Youth    Amanda Purington    children    focus group    government    health    Karen Schantz    New York    nutrition    research    youth   

Reconciled with a family member? We want to hear from you!


silhouette of four people - two teenagers and two adults who are holding hands - on a shore at sunset

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

What problem is experienced, directly or indirectly, by almost everyone and can cause emotional distress so profound that it lasts for a lifetime?

The answer is estrangement from a family member. More than one-fifth of adults report currently experiencing estrangement from a family member and most families live through an estrangement at some point.

Despite how often family members are cut off from one another, very little research has been conducted on estrangement. There is also scarce professional guidance for families trying to heal a rift among its members.

The Cornell Family Reconciliation Project aims to fill this knowledge gap. The project is seeking people from across the country to contribute their stories of how they reconciled with family members after a rift. The researchers will study these reports about how an estrangement was resolved and offer solutions based on these real-life experiences.

portrait of Karl Pillemer

Karl Pillemer

“There is a lot of information available on how difficult estrangements are and what causes them,” said Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell and the director of the project. “However, what is lacking is the good news – how family members overcome a rift and reconcile. By gathering many reconciliation stories, we hope to contribute knowledge that is useful in resolving such family problems.”

Reconciled family members are invited to share their stories on the Cornell Family Reconciliation Project web site. Also, those interested can participate in the study by volunteering for an anonymous personal interview (sign-up information is on the web site). Based on the information received, Pillemer and his research team will prepare materials designed to offer advice to estranged family members and to the professionals who work with them.

“We invite people to help us understand this complex problem by sharing their stories,” Pillemer said. “The advice from people who have been through estrangement and reconciliation can help thousands of other families.”

(2) Comments.  |   Tags: family    Family Reconciliation Project    Karl Pillemer    research   

Police-related fatalities may occur twice as often as reported


By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

According to a new study led by a Cornell researcher, an average of nearly three men in the United States are killed by police use of deadly force every day. This accounts for 8 percent of all homicides with adult male victims – twice as many as identified in official statistics.

These starkly contrasting numbers are part of the study, “Risk of Police-Involved Death by Race/Ethnicity and Place, United States, 2012-2018,” led by Frank Edwards, postdoctoral associate with Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, published July 19 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Official statistics show that deaths attributable to legal intervention by police account for close to 4 percent of all homicides with adult male victims,” Edwards said. “We estimated that over this period, police were responsible for about 8 percent of all U.S. homicides with adult male victims – or 2.8 per day on average.”

Past work on police-involved mortality has been limited by the absence of systematic data, Edwards said. Such data, primarily collected through the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest-Related Deaths program or the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report, are widely acknowledged as unreliable due to limited scope and voluntary data reporting.

“Police departments are not required by law to report deaths that occur due to officer action and may have strong incentives to be sensitive with data due to public affairs and community relations,” he said. “Effectively, we don’t know what’s happening if all we look at is the official data.”

In response to such shortcomings, journalists, activists and researchers have begun collecting data that count police-involved deaths through public records and media coverage, a method the Bureau of Justice Statistics says is actually more reliable than relying on police departments to report, Edwards said.

Through this method, the research found that the risk of being killed by police is 3.2 to 3.5 times higher for black men than for white men, and between 1.4 and 1.7 times higher for Latino men.

Edwards and his co-authors identified 6,295 adult male victims of police homicide over a six-year period between Jan. 1, 2012, and Feb. 12, 2018 – averaging about 1,028 deaths per year, or 2.8 deaths per day.

Of those 6,295 victims, 2,993 were white, 1,779 were black, 1,145 were Latino, 114 were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 94 were American Indian/Alaska Native. During this period, black men were killed by police at a rate of at least 2.1 per 100,000 population, Latino men at a rate of at least 1.0 per 100,000, and white men at least 0.6 per 100,000.

The research also showed that this risk varies dramatically by location. The data showed that although risk is high in large urban areas typically associated with police homicide, the majority of police homicides occur in less-populated regions.

“One thing that really stands out within our research is that while the large central metros see a large chunk of killings by police, it is only a third of the total,” Edwards said. “That means two-thirds of all the shootings we’re finding are in suburban, smaller metropolitan and rural areas, which have received scant attention from both researchers and the media.”

In the Mountain States, police were responsible for about 17 percent of all homicides, while in the Middle Atlantic states, police accounted for about 5 percent of all homicides. Police accounted for more than 10 percent of all homicides in predominantly rural areas and about 7 percent of all homicides in large central metropolitan areas.

Edwards says that though this research provides more accurate data on the use of deadly force by police, it does not paint the whole picture.

“The new data that we’re using is capturing a lot more cases than what the official data is showing us, but there is still an undercount,” he said. “Everything that we’ve put forward within our research, we still think of that as being conservative.”

According to Edwards, this data indicates that deaths of men by police use of force is more common and reaffirms that structural racism, racialized criminal-legal systems, anti-immigrant mobilizations and racial politics all likely play a role in explaining where police killings are most frequent and who is most likely to be a victim.

“From a public health perspective, developing targeted interventions for sites with particularly high levels of or inequalities in police-involved mortality may serve as a productive framework for reducing them,” Edwards said.

New study finds police-related fatalities may occur twice as often as reported - Cornell Chronicle

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Frank Edwards    inequality    law enforcement    media mention    research   

Promoting good behavior online


Portraits of Janis Whitlock, Natalie Bazarova, and Drew Margolin

Janis Whitlock, Natalie Bazarova, and Drew Margolin

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR research scientist Janis Whitlock is joining a new collaborative project at Cornell’s Institute for Social Sciences that will look at how technology influences pro-social and anti-social behaviors, and how to promote good behavior online.

The project is named "Pro-Social Behaviors in the Digital Age" and co-led by Natalie Bazarova and Drew Margolin, faculty members in Cornell’s Department of Communication. The central idea is to develop new information about the best ways to reduce negative interactions and promote positive interactions on social media platforms.

“Most of us are well aware of the way virtual social spaces can quickly become forums for base human exchange,” Whitlock said. “Understanding why this happens and, most importantly, how we might intervene as bystanders, developers, or policy makers is one of our primary goals with this project. We want to be part of the larger conversation about how to replace the worst of us with the best of us in online gathering places.”

The project team – which also includes Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior and Renѐ Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science – will focus their research on four areas:

  • preventing the spread of fake news,
  • preventing cyberbullying,
  • promoting online support for mental distress, and
  • promoting online support for people in educational settings.

The project will receive funding from the Institute for Social Science for three academic years. In the second year, project team members including Whitlock will spend half of their working hours “in residence” at the institute to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. During the third year, they hope to publish work from the project and secure funding from an external source to keep the project going.

Whitlock brings nearly two decades of research experience on youth mental health. For this project, she will focus on online exchange related to mental health distress and well-being, as well as collaborating with project team members on their focus areas..

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Janis Whitlock    Natalie Bazarova    research    social media    technology    youth   

Retirement can bring health risks

Tags: aging,   Maria Fitzpatrick,   research,  

Portrait of Maria Fitzpatrick

Maria Fitzpatrick,

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Most people think of their retirement as golden years when they will pursue hobbies and passions they did not have time for when working full-time. But a study by Maria Fitzpatrick, the BCTR’s Milman Fellow, finds that the post-work years may not be so idyllic.

Fitzpatrick published a working paper that examined the link between retirement and health. To do this, she and her coauthor, Timothy Moore, combined data on mortality from the National Center for Health Statistics, a longitudinal data set of all deaths in the U.S., and Social Security benefits records.

Since Social Security benefits are first available at age 62, many people retire when they reach that age.  Fitzpatrick wanted to find out if there were also sudden changes in health at that age.  She found an increase in mortality for men at age 62. The increased risk was smaller and not as clear for women.

Since both men and women are most likely to collect Social Security benefits at age 62, but only men are more likely to retire, the increase in mortality is likely not related to collecting new benefits, but retiring from work, Fitzpatrick said.

“Retirement is a time of people’s lives when there is a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “The results from our study suggest that people thinking about early retirement should pay close attention to their health as they transition to retirement.  They should be sure to take care of themselves, be careful in their activities, especially driving, and check in with a physician if anything goes awry.”

Fitzpatrick did find some limitations in the data. Specifically, there was no way to tell if the increases in mortality continued in the long-term as people got older and no way to measure mortality rates when people retired at ages other than 62.

Fitzpatrick is an associate professor in the Department of Policy and Management and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Related:

Fitzpatrick named BCTR Milman Fellow

Ep. 18: The Well Being of Children and Older Adults with Maria Fitzpatrick - Doing Translational Research podcast

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: aging    Maria Fitzpatrick    research   

Researchers: Work with us!


photo of researcher at a desk in a computer lab

NDACAN Summer Research Institute attendee Yahayra Michel Smith working with a dataset

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Calling all Cornell social science researchers: The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research offers a broad range of opportunities for scholars interested in conducting translational research.

For faculty members interested in translational research, BCTR experts can strengthen a grant proposal, offer training and technical support, and help to set up collaborative relationships with faculty members. For experienced researchers, the BCTR offers access to data sets and research participants that can increase the likelihood your project will receive funding.

“When we think about translational research in the BCTR, we focus on assisting social scientists who want to move their theories, models, and methods into real-world settings,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the BCTR. “We can help them shortcut a lengthy sample recruitment process because of our access to diverse vulnerable populations. The BCTR also has an unusual array of data sets available for secondary analysis, including evaluation studies that address a range of human problems. And we can assist researchers in thinking out dissemination plans for their proposals.”

The BCTR can also open doors for researchers who wish to connect with the statewide network of county Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) associations.

Many associations now have “Research Navigators,” who have been trained in research methodologies, ethical considerations, and participant recruitment strategies. Many social scientists at Cornell have found that partnerships with Cooperative Extension educators help them to identify emerging needs and research questions from people on the ground in the communities across New York State.  CCE educators also provide invaluable help in recruiting participants for Cornell research projects.

“A great example is the state 4-H Youth Development Program,” Pillemer said. “Any researcher recruiting youth from elementary through high school can find assistance in recruiting diverse participants in this age range.”

Karl Pillemer (HDEV) in conversation with 87-year old alumna Helen Rosenblatt for The Legacy Project: Older Americans offer tips and advice on surviving and thriving.

Research participant Helene Rosenblatt with Karl Pillemer (used with permission)

In addition to the 4-H program, the BCR has cultivated relationships with an array of organizations that provide access to broad segments of the population in New York State, including thousands of low-income families who participate in nutrition programs, military families, more than 300,000 members of senior centers in New York City, and more. These “research ready” organizations can facilitate recruitment of hard-to-reach populations.

In addition, the BCTR shares data collected through more than 20 projects that span the life course, offering a unique opportunity for secondary analysis. The data sets include 4-H participant data, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Achieve, data from parents of children who self-injure, surveys of nursing home staff and workers in residential youth facilities, and many others.

“Since it began 7 years ago, a core mission of the BCTR has been to make it easier for Cornell researchers to conduct translational research involving agencies, organizations, and communities. We have now organized a set of services to make it even easier for faculty, graduate students, and other researchers to collaborate with us.”

To find out more, see our For Researchers page.

(1) Comment.  |   Tags: research    translational research   

Cornell Project 2Gen sponsors early education research


By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Cornell Project 2Gen sponsored two researchers’ presentations at the Child Care and Early Education Policy Research Consortium meeting last month in Washington D.C.

Portrait of Lisa McCabe

Lisa McCabe

BCTR research associate Lisa McCabe, Cornell sociology professor John Sipple and Cornell alumnae Hope Casto, associate professor of education studies at Skidmore College, gave two presentations to early education scholars on research sponsored by Project 2Gen, which focuses on helping vulnerable families by developing programs that support parents and their children jointly.

The first explored factors related to child care deserts, neighborhoods and communities that are lacking access to child care for working families, particularly for children under 5 years old. The work is in its early stages, McCabe said.

“Project 2Gen has allowed us to expand our work to specifically look at Head Start, regulated child care centers, family child care homes and public pre-kindergarten,” she said. “We are particularly interested in how capacity may vary by rural or urban status and community wealth.”

Their second presentation focused on the challenges in working with administrative data, and various strategies for addressing them.

“As states across the country work to improve and expand their state-wide databases on early care and education, opportunities to use these data for researching policy-relevant trends are increasing,” McCabe said. “Yet working with these large, complex data sets can be difficult.

“By sharing lessons learned in the Project 2Gen work, we hope to facilitate better collaboration between state-level administrators and researchers to promote high-quality research that informs early education policy. “

Project 2Gen works to build a community of scholars focused on 2Gen approaches to support vulnerable families and partners with practitioners and policymakers throughout New York and the nation. Two-generational programs can begin by focusing on children and then add a component to support parents, such as parent education or skills classes. Others may focus on parents, and then add a component for children, such as child care or nutrition support. Still other approaches target systems that influence families, such as schools or workplaces.

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: children    conference    Cornell Project 2Gen    education    Lisa McCabe    presentation    research   

Workshop: How to Build Research Relationships with Non-Academic Partners, Monday, November 20, 2017

 
how to workshops

How to Build Research Relationships with Non-Academic Partners
Karl Pillemer, director, BCTR

Monday, November 20, 2017
9:00-10:30 AM
102 Mann Library



This workshop will explore how researchers can build productive partnerships and avoid difficulties when conducting studies with non-academic organizations and agencies. We will examine common problems that arise in research projects in community settings, including differences in goals, organizational structure, timelines, and dissemination priorities. The workshop will feature examples of solutions to these problems, using methods for developing mutually beneficial community partnerships with agencies. This workshop is interactive so bring your questions, issues you have encountered doing research with community agencies, and lessons learned.

To Register:

Please contact Patty Thayer at pmt6@cornell.edu
Breakfast will be served
This workshop is open to all Cornell faculty, staff, and grad students.


how to workshopsPart of an interactive workshop series

Researchers are increasingly conducting studies in community settings and applying for grants that require documentation of real-world impact. Indeed, some funders now require components such as dissemination plans, stakeholder engagement, or community participation. To meet these new demands, researchers may wish to collaborate with non-academic groups and craft research questions and results that inform practice or policy. This series of interactive workshops shares the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s extensive experience conducting research in real-world settings and translating empirical findings into practice. Each workshop addresses a key challenge that researchers face in doing translational research and provides practical tools for overcoming obstacles to conducting effective translational research.

Full 2017-2018 How To workshop series

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