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Linking Parental Incarceration and Family Dynamics Associated with Intergenerational Transmission: A Life Course Perspective

NCJ Number
Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Journal Volume: 57 Issue: 3 Dated: 2019 Pages: 395-423
Date Published
29 pages

This article reports on the authors’ analysis of the links between parental crime and incarceration, and children’s well-being; it lays out the authors’ research methodology and research outcomes.


Children experiencing parental incarceration face numerous additional disadvantages, but researchers have often relied on these other co-occurring factors primarily as controls. In this article, the authors focus on the intimate links between crime and incarceration, as well as on the broader family context within which parental incarceration often unfolds. Thus, parents’ drug use and criminal behavior that precedes and may follow incarceration periods may be ongoing stressors that directly affect child well-being. They also use their analyses to foreground mechanisms associated with social learning theories, including observations and communications that increase the child's risk for criminal involvement and other problem outcomes. These related family experiences often channel the child's own developing network ties, such as peers and romantic partners, that then serve as proximal influences. The authors explore these processes by drawing on qualitative and quantitative data from a study of the lives of a sample of respondents followed from adolescence to young adulthood, as well as on records searches of parents’ incarceration histories. Through their analyses, the authors found evidence that some effects attributed to parental incarceration likely connect to unmeasured features of the broader family context, and together, parental incarceration and the broader climate often constitute a tightly coupled package of family-related risks linked to intergenerational continuities in criminal behavior and other forms of social disadvantage. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2019