U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Effect of Maternal Incarceration on Adult Offspring Involvement in the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 35 Issue: 3 Dated: May-June 2007 Pages: 283-296
Beth M. Huebner; Regan Gustafson
Date Published
May 2007
14 pages
Using data from the mother-child sample of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, this study examined the long-term effect of mothers' incarceration on adult children's involvement in the criminal justice system.
The findings show that the adult children of incarcerated mothers were significantly more likely to have been convicted of a crime and to have served time on probation than the adult children of mothers who were not incarcerated. One-fourth of incarcerated mothers had a child who had been involved with the criminal justice system as an adult. The direct effect of the mother's incarceration on adult children's outcomes endured even after accounting for maternal separation, maternal delinquency, and other risk factors. In contrast, mothers' imprisonment was not apparently a risk marker for poor home environments and other factors associated with the risk of imprisonment. Apparently some incarcerated mothers were effective parents whose presence in the home was beneficial to their children. The findings suggest that keeping parents in the community may reduce the negative consequences of the parents' incarceration on their children. Many have argued that because women commit predominately drug and property crimes, community sanctions merit special consideration for this population. Data were obtained from women and their children who were surveyed in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. Data on mothers were obtained from the original study sample, which was designed to be nationally representative of young men and women who were between the ages of 14 and 22 in 1978. Data were collected through in-person interviews annually from 1979 to 1994 and biannually from 1996 to 2000. In 1986, the data-collection protocol was expanded to include children born to mothers who were part of the 1979 sample. The current analysis focused on 1,697 adult offspring who were between age 18 and 24 in 2000 and their mothers (n=1,258). 5 tables, 9 notes, and 73 references