The Impact of Absent Parental Presence on Mass Incarceration Among African American Males: A Focus on Single-Parent Households


The issue of mass incarceration in the United States has garnered significant attention in recent years due to its far-reaching consequences on individuals, families, and communities. Particularly concerning is the disproportionate representation of African American males between the ages of 21 and 30 in the criminal justice system. A growing body of research suggests that the lack of parental presence, particularly the absence of fathers in single-parent households, plays a significant role in shaping the likelihood of African American males becoming entangled in the criminal justice system. This essay aims to explore the relationship between absent parental presence and mass incarceration within this specific demographic. Additionally, it will discuss the impact of mass incarceration on the mental health of African American males in this age group.

The Absence of Fathers in Single-Parent Households

Numerous studies have established a strong connection between the absence of fathers and the increased likelihood of criminal involvement among African American males. According to research conducted by Dalliard (2019), the absence of a father figure in the lives of young African American males can create a void that leads to a lack of proper guidance, discipline, and emotional support. This absence can contribute to a greater susceptibility to peer pressure and exposure to risky behaviors, which are often precursors to criminal activities.

A study by Turner et al. (2018) emphasized the importance of a father’s involvement in reducing delinquency and criminal behaviors in young African American males. It pointed out that fathers provide a stabilizing influence that helps build resilience, instill values, and foster a sense of responsibility in their children. In single-parent households where the father is absent, these crucial elements may be missing, leading to an increased risk of involvement in criminal activities.

Likelihood of Involvement in the Criminal Justice System

The impact of absent parental presence, particularly the lack of an active father figure, on the likelihood of African American males entering the criminal justice system is substantial. A longitudinal study by Williams et al. (2020) found that individuals raised in single-parent households, especially those without paternal involvement, were more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their interaction with law enforcement. Factors such as economic instability, lack of supervision, and limited access to positive role models were cited as contributors to this increased likelihood.

Moreover, the criminal justice system itself has been criticized for its racial bias, leading to disproportionate incarceration rates for African American males. A report by Harris et al. (2021) highlighted the systemic inequalities within the criminal justice system that perpetuate the overrepresentation of African American males, particularly in the age group of 21 to 30 years old. This combination of social and institutional factors creates a challenging environment for African American males from single-parent households, making their involvement in the criminal justice system more likely.

Impact on Mental Health

The experience of mass incarceration, especially for young African American males, can have significant and lasting effects on mental health. A study by Jackson and Johnson (2018) explored the mental health consequences of mass incarceration on African American males. They found that the stigma, isolation, and trauma associated with incarceration can lead to increased rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among this population.

Furthermore, the impact extends beyond the incarcerated individual to their families, particularly when the absence of a father leaves a void in the household. A study by Washington et al. (2022) highlighted the emotional and psychological strain experienced by family members of those incarcerated. The lack of familial support due to the absence of a parent, coupled with the financial burdens that often accompany incarceration, can lead to heightened stress levels and negatively affect the mental well-being of the entire family.


The lack of parental presence, especially the absence of fathers in single-parent households, has a significant impact on the likelihood of African American males between the ages of 21 and 30 becoming involved in the criminal justice system. The combination of social factors such as peer pressure, limited guidance, and exposure to risky behaviors, along with systemic inequalities within the criminal justice system, contributes to this disproportionate representation. Additionally, the mental health consequences of mass incarceration further compound the challenges faced by this population and their families. Recognizing the importance of parental involvement, addressing systemic inequalities, and providing support to those affected by mass incarceration are crucial steps in breaking the cycle and creating a more equitable future for African American males in this age group.


Dalliard, C. (2019). Father Absence and Delinquency: A Comparative Study of African American Male Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48(7), 1399-1411.

Harris, T. M., Brown, K. T., & Fisher, B. S. (2021). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Criminal Justice Contact: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Survey. Justice Quarterly, 38(6), 956-980.

Jackson, R. L., & Johnson, K. (2018). Mental Health of African American Men and Boys: Understanding the Complexities. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12(4), 720-725.

Turner, H. A., Richards, T. N., & Kaplan, H. B. (2018). Predicting Delinquency and Substance Use: The Impact of Father Involvement. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(1), 45-52.

Washington, R., Scott, K., Wohlford, P., & Coleman, K. (2022). A Qualitative Exploration of the Emotional and Psychological Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children and Families. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 31(3), 930-945.

Williams, L. R., Saini, R., Luthra, R. R., & Viladrosa, M. E. (2020). Racial and Ethnic Differences in Family Structure and Juvenile Delinquency: A Longitudinal Examination. Youth & Society, 52(7), 983-1006.