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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Mark Pachucki

Second Advisor

David Cort

Third Advisor

Kathryne Young

Fourth Advisor

Nicole VanKim

Subject Categories

Epidemiology | Inequality and Stratification | Medicine and Health | Race and Ethnicity | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


Structural racism has taken many forms throughout American history and to this day continues to drive social, economic, and health inequalities. Mass incarceration is a modern tool of social marginalization with well documented and deep-rooted racial inequalities. Research has continually shown that mass incarceration negatively impacts the health of disadvantaged communities. Even police stops, the most common and mundane form of criminal justice contact has been linked with deleterious health outcomes at the individual and community level. In this dissertation, I identify specific social and biological mechanisms connecting encounters with the police and health outcomes. In the first chapter, I introduce my overall argument and aims of my dissertation. In the second chapter, I argue that police contact is a fundamental cause of health disparities and discuss how it interacts with other fundamental causes. In chapter three I explore the roles of system avoidance and social isolation in driving this disparity. In the fourth chapter, I examine the role of the family and the proliferation of stress within the parent-child relationship. In the fifth chapter I observe biological ramifications of police discrimination, including accelerated biological aging and disease activity. In the sixth chapter I conclude by discussing the implication of my empirical findings and theoretical approach. Overall, I argue that if we wish to address racial health disparities, we must confront the role of mass incarceration in our society.