Events / Neil A. Weiner Research Speaker Series


The Health Consequences of Mass Imprisonment for (Black) Women

Past Event
Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016
12:30 PM — 1:30 PM
Vera Institute of Justice


In this Neil A. Weiner Research Speaker Series event, Professor Hedwig (Hedy) Lee of the University of Washington in Seattle, will present a discussion of a book project which examines the possible impact of mass imprisonment on the health and social well-being of women and on health disparities. The talk will highlight some of the preliminary results on the qualitative component of the book from interviews with women on the East and West coasts of the United States.

Since the early 1970s, the American imprisonment rate has increased dramatically from a modest 100 per 100,000 to a comparatively and historically extreme 500 per 100,000. Because the risk of imprisonment is concentrated among young, African American men with low levels of education, scholars have developed an interest in the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality. This interest is perhaps best understood as constitutive of two research waves. The first wave of research in this area focused primarily on the consequences of imprisonment for men’s labor market chances, with implications for labor market inequality. A second wave of research considers the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequalities in the political system, childhood wellbeing, and men’s health, to name just three areas that have received much attention. Missing from this literature, however, is an analysis of how mass imprisonment affects the health and wellbeing of the predominantly poor and minority women who routinely deal with the absence of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Poor and minority women, particularly African American women, face markedly higher rates of chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, and poor mental health compared to other demographic groups. These disparities have grown over time and remain largely unexplained. Mass imprisonment could be an important pathway for explaining the causes and persistence of health inequalities among American women. 

About Professor Hedy Lee

Hedwig (Hedy) Lee is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her BS in Policy Analysis from Cornell University in 2003 and her PhD in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. After receiving her PhD, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health from 2009 to 2011. She is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Research on Demography and Ecology and Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences. She is broadly interested in the social determinants and consequences of population health and health disparities, with a particular focus on race/ethnicity, poverty, race-related stress, and the family. Hedy’s research draws from multiple sources of data to investigate these relationships, including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Chicago Community Adult Health Study, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, National Health Interview Survey, National Survey of American Life, and Twitter. Hedy is very interested in engaging in interdisciplinary research and has published and worked with scholars across a wide range of fields including sociology, demography, psychology, political science, public health and medicine. Her recent work examines the impact of family member incarceration on the health and attitudes of family members, association between discrimination and mental and physical health, documenting trends in racial/ethnic health disparities, socioeconomic causes and consequences of obesity in childhood and adolescence, and using social media data for demographic and  health research. Hedy currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on topics related to racial/ethnic health disparities and the social determinants of population health.