The overall goal of the present study is to understand how custody loss is related to substance use and criminal behavior among African American women who are mothers across criminal offender status. While drug use is similar across racial groups in the US, African Americans disproportionately experience child welfare and criminal justice system involvement as a result of drug misuse. Very limited scientific data is available to help understand the effect of custody loss on a woman's subsequent substance use and crime. Prominent on NIDA's research agenda is the promotion of research addressing health disparities and vulnerabilities among minority populations. The proposed project addresses a facet of this mission by examining custody loss as a predictor of increased substance use and criminal behavior among African American women. Specifically, the main objectives of this project are to identify risk factors for custody loss in this population and to assess the substance use and criminal behavior-related outcomes of custody loss. Because children are a significant source of social support for mothers, the loss of such support is likely to increase dependence upon other sources of support such as family and friends. When this support is adequate, women may be less likely to increase their substance use and criminal behavior after losing custody. This study is significant because of its potential to identify differences in the substance use and criminal behavior outcomes of custody loss among African American women and uncover disparities among drug using and non-drug using women across three levels of criminal justice involvement (n=200 per group): prison, probation, and community (no criminal justice involvement). Data for analyses will be derived from Waves 1-3 of the "African American Female Drug Users: HIV, Health Disparities, and Criminality" study (also known as "B-WISE";NIDA R01-DA22967), an ongoing longitudinal study of 600 African American women. All women are interviewed at baseline and at 6 and 12 months after the initial interview.
The specific aims of the present study are (1) To describe the characteristics of African American women who have lost custody of their children, compared to women who have not;(2) To examine the mediating effect of custody loss on the relationship between individual level factors (criminal justice and drug user status) and changes in substance use and criminal behavior over the 12-month study time frame;and (3) To determine if characteristics of the child, the custody loss event, and perceptions of social support are significant predictors of a change in substance use and criminal behavior after losing custody. Multinomial logistic regression will be used to estimate the impact of factors such as social support, criminal justice status, characteristic of the child, and characteristics of the custody loss event on post-custody loss changes in drug use and crime. The significance of this study includes the potential to provide data for criminal justice system and child welfare system policy for the prevention, intervention, and treatment of African American mothers who are substance users.

Public Health Relevance

This study is significant to the public health field because of its potential to uncover disparities among African American women across criminal justice status and drug use status, prior to and after losing custody. This knowledge can be used as a foundation for future criminal justice and child welfare systems-level interventions targeted at early detection and treatment of substance abuse that utilize women's sources of social support as allies. Such interventions would reduce the need for costly child placement services and incarceration, ultimately reducing the disparities experienced by African American women.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F16-B (20))
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Deeds, Bethany
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University of Kentucky
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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