law

Criminal and Immigration Laws Shape Health Outcomes of Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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Over the last several decades, criminal and immigration laws in the United States have disproportionately burdened marginalized racial and ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Latinos. This policy brief reviews the sociological and public health research on the health effects of various criminal and immigration laws, policies, and practices. We argue that scholars and policy makers should understand the law as a fundamental cause of health disparities operating through two broad mechanisms: (1) primary effects on those who hold a stigmatized legal status; and (2) spillover effects on racial and ethnic in-group members, regardless of their own legal status.  We conclude that the massive expansion of punitive legal control should be treated as a public health crisis. To address this, policy should reduce the material and stigmatic burdens of criminal and immigration statuses on those directly impacted, as well as their legally-unmarked families and communities.