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Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Perspectives, Promises, and Policies (From Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, P 189-232, 2003, Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul, eds. -- See NCJ-205850)

NCJ Number
Ross D. Parke; K. Alison Clarke-Stewart
Date Published
44 pages
This chapter examines how the incarceration of a parent affects the children's well-being and development, with attention to what is happening to these children both during and after their parents' incarceration.
A review of the scope of the problem notes that according to recent estimates, nearly 3.6 million parents in the United States are under some form of correctional supervision, including parole; of these, almost 1.1 million are incarcerated in Federal or State prisons or local jails. These parents have an estimated 2.3 million children. Ninety percent of incarcerated parents are fathers; however, over the past decade, the number of mothers in prison has increased at a faster rate than the number of incarcerated fathers. Of the total population of minor-age children in the United State, nearly 7 percent of African-American, 3 percent of Hispanic, and 1 percent of White children have a parent in prison. Following an overview of the scope of the problem, the chapter considers theoretical perspectives to guide research and policy. These theoretical perspectives include developmental and ecological contexts and cross-level analyses of the individual child and parent, the parent-child dyad, the family network, the community, the institution, and the culture. This is followed by a discussion of the impact of incarceration on children. Attention is given to short-term effects and long-term effects. The discussion of long-term effects distinguishes the effects according to children's age and gender. A section on the modifiers of children's reactions to incarceration addresses preincarceration conditions and factors during incarceration. An overview of programs for incarcerated parents concludes that although these parent intervention efforts show promise, their limited follow-up, small sample sizes, and failure to systematically isolate effective components of the intervention severely restrict conclusions. A discussion of interventions on behalf of the family as a unit considers prison visitation programs, raising children in the prison (prison nurseries), and alternatives to incarceration. Other sections of this chapter address programs for children of incarcerated parents, implications for children of parental reentry into the community and family, problems associated with intervention and evaluation efforts, and research and policy issues. Policy implications are discussed for families of inmates, social service agencies, law enforcement and prisons, the criminal justice system, schools, interagency cooperation, and changing cultural attitudes. 126 references