Sociologist Anna Haskins studies impact of criminal legal system on racial disparities in educational outcomes

Author: Jon Hendricks


Anna Haskins initially chose a career as an elementary school teacher to address racial disparities in educational outcomes. 

Now, the Andrew V. Tackes Associate Professor of Sociology and associate director of the Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience approaches the issue on a broader research scale.

“There’s a lot of research in the sociology of education that has really tried to look at the persistence of racial disparities, despite these sort of more direct ways to eliminate racial differences, Brown v. Board of Education and beyond,” Haskins said.

“Some researchers look at neighborhoods; some research looks at wealth. Very few studies had started looking at another sort of social institution that has racial disparities, and that was the criminal legal system.”

So that’s where Haskins directed her attention. Through her research, she learned that fathers who were formerly incarcerated engaged less with their children’s school than parents who haven’t been detained. 

She and a team of undergraduate and graduate students are now examining why that’s the case, with a goal of creating interventions that address needs of both families and schools.

In the three-pronged study, the team is interviewing previously incarcerated parents to determine if their exposure to the criminal legal system led to decreased involvement in their children's education because of a fear of schools. 

The researchers also are interviewing education personnel to learn how school environments support system-involved families, and they’re examining whether school facilities — with resource officers, metal detectors, and bullet-proof glass — are becoming more like prisons.

Haskins said she’s excited to be exploring these important questions at Notre Dame and engaging in service work through the Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison. “It is just a fantastic place to be involved in studying education.”