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Study reveals incarceration’s hidden wounds for African-American men

There’s a stark and troubling way that incarceration diminishes the ability of a former inmate to empathize with a loved one behind bars, but existing sociological theories fail to capture it, Vanderbilt University sociologists have found.

According to a commonly used model of stress and health, the experience of having a family member locked up does not have a significant mental health effect on African American men. It was only after accounting for an individual’s own incarceration history that the researchers were able to reveal both how difficult it is for former inmates to connect with incarcerated family members and how painful it is for their peers who had never shared that experience. It turned out that the lack of distress experienced by former inmates had been masking the distress felt by the never incarcerated all along.

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