Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Child Development


Child Development Graduate Program


Mass incarceration has been described as the new form of slavery and systemic racism in the United States. In this thesis, it is explored as the main societal cause of the disproportionate representation of black individuals in jails and prisons, disrupting black communities and destroying the lives of so many black youth. Specific policies are discussed and identified as direct links to the growth of incarceration and the criminalization of black youth, particularly black adolescent males. While numerous studies have revealed the dangers of incarceration and the increased risk of recidivism for justice involved youth, little research has been done to explore the impact on development and identity formation during adolescence. This is of particular importance in light of our current understanding of brain development during adolescence, and the unique challenges youth face during this developmental stage. This thesis seeks to understand the connection between mass incarceration, trauma and adolescent development with a particular focus on identity and self worth in young black males. The goal is to shed light on the ways this connection creates a cycle of criminalizing and incarcerating black adolescent males, which perpetuates mass incarceration and systemic racism in this country. By bringing attention to the alarming impact of mass incarceration on adolescents, the writer hopes to decriminalize and rehumanize young black males, reduce youth incarceration, and encourage restorative responses and trauma informed treatment for black youth involved in the justice system.