Frank Edwards

I am a sociologist broadly interested in social control, the welfare state, race, and applied statistics. My work explores the causes and consequences of the social distribution of state violence through two projects.

The first draws attention to child protection systems as key sites of family disruption. This work shows that American child protection systems are tightly intertwined with carceral and welfare policy systems, and that race and colonization play a central role in explaining the spatial and social distribution of family separation.

The second provides detailed analyses of the prevalence of police-involved killings in the US. This project uses novel data to provide estimates of mortality risk by race, sex, and place. It also evaluates how institutions and politics affect the prevalence of police violence.

Selected Publications

Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–Ethnicity, and Sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019. pdf.

African American men and women, American Indian/Alaska Native men and women, and Latino men face higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. Latina women and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women face lower risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. For young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death.

The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000–2016. Child Maltreatment, 2019. html.

About 1 in 100 U.S. children will experience the termination of parental rights by age 18. Risks are highest for Native American and African American children. Nearly 3.0% of Native American children and around 1.5% of African American children will have both parents’ rights terminated thorough the child welfare system.

Family Surveillance: Police and the Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2019. html.

Police are responsible for producing about one-fifth of all reports of child abuse and neglect investigated by local child welfare agencies, and low-level interactions with police often result in the initiation of a child welfare investigation. The spatial and social distribution of policing affects which children and families experience unnecessary child protection interventions and which children who are victims of maltreatment go unnoticed.

Risk of Police-Involved Death by Race/Ethnicity and Place, United States, 2012–2018. American Journal of Public Health, 2018. html.

We used novel data on police-involved fatalities and Bayesian models to estimate mortality risk for Black, Latino, and White men for all US counties by Census division and metropolitan area type. Police kill, on average, 2.8 men per day. Police were responsible for about 8% of all homicides with adult male victims between 2012 and 2018. Black men’s mortality risk is between 1.9 and 2.4 deaths per 100 000 per year, Latino risk is between 0.8 and 1.2, and White risk is between 0.6 and 0.7.

Edwards, Frank. 2016. “Saving Children, Controlling Families: Punishment, Redistribution, and Child Protection.” American Sociological Review 81(3):575–95. pdf.

State efforts at child protection are structured by the policy regimes in which they are enmeshed. Children are separated from their families and placed into foster care far more frequently in states with extensive and punitive criminal justice systems than in states with broad and generous welfare programs. However, large welfare bureaucracies interact with welfare program enrollment to create opportunities for the surveillance of families, suggesting that extensive and administratively complex welfare states engage in “soft” social control through the surveillance and regulation of family behavior. Policy regimes influence the interaction between families and the state through their proximate effects on family structure and well-being and through institutional effects that delimit the routines and scripts through which policymakers and street-level bureaucrats intervene to protect children.