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Evelyn Patterson

Associate Professor of Sociology
Associate Professor of Law
Affiliated Faculty, Centers of Medicine, Health and Society and Society for the Study of Democratic Institutions
Health Policy Associate, Center for Health Policy, Meharry Medical College

Evelyn Patterson studies how the U.S. judicial system creates and perpetuates inequality. Drawing on her training in sociology, demography, and criminology, she studies the intergenerational transfer of racial and social inequalities in America with a particular focus upon social systems, organizations and institutions. Most of her work to date examines the role of the U.S. judicial system in creating and perpetuating inequality. Interaction with the judicial system disproportionately impacts marginalized populations by limiting their social mobility, blocking their economic opportunities, ensuring poor health outcomes, and minimizing their opportunities to escape the self-sustaining system of inequality embedded in America’s social structure.

Her research applies demographic principles to investigate a variety of social problems and processes associated, broadly, with institutions and organizations. In particular, her work situates the consequences of incarceration in an array of social processes, interrogating how incarceration as a social institution reconfigures and mutates other primary social institutions, including law, polity, education, kinship and economy. Her work focuses on three interrelated sociological topics: health and mortality, population processes and social institutions, and the social construction of law, race and ethnicity.

Professor Patterson joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Sociology in 2010 and received a secondary appointment to the law faculty in 2018.

Research Interests

Correctional populations, sociology of law, heath and mortality, formal demography

Representative Publications

  • “The Strategies, Complexities, and Realities of Zero Prison Population Growth,” 6 Social Sciences 60 (2017)
  • “Imprisoned by and Freed from Empathy: Familial Incarceration and Psychological Distress among African American Men in the National Survey of American Life,” 57 Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2 (2016) (with Tony Brown and Mary Bell). This article received the American Sociological Association (Mental Health Section) Award for Best Publication in 2018.
  • “Fractures in the Color Line: Consequences of Constructions of Race and Ethnicity on Measures of Imprisonment,” 2 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1 (2016) (with Helena Dagadu)
  • “Race, Methodology, and Social Construction in the Genomic Era,” 661 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 86 (2015) (with Tukufu Zuberi and Quincy T. Stewart)
  • “Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course Revisited: Cumulative Years Lost to Incarceration for Working-Age White and Black Men,” 53 Social Science Research 325 (2015) (with Chris Wildeman)
  • “Hidden Disparities: Decomposing Inequalities in Time Served in California, 1985-2009,” 49 Law and Society Review 467 (2015)
  • “The Dose-Response of Time Served in Prison on Mortality: New York State, 1989-2003,” 103 American Journal of Public Health 523 (2013)
  • “Incarcerating Death: Mortality in U.S. State Correctional Facilities, 1985-1998,” 47 Demography 587 (2010). This article received the American Sociological Association (Sociology of Population Section) Award for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship in Population in 2012.