How Parental Incarceration Harms Children NCFR Policy Full Brief Jan. 2018 0

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1 Policy Brief Volume 3, Issue 1 | January 2018 How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It by Sara Wakefield, Ph.D. and Christopher Wildeman, Ph.D. ABSTRACT About 5 million children While parental incarceration was once an event that only a tiny fraction of American (approximately 7% of children experienced, it is now a common event for American children—especially all minor children) have African American children. In this policy brief, we document the mostly negative experienced the incarceration consequences of parental incarceration on children, focusing especially on the of a residential parent at some consequences of paternal incarceration for children, and describe policies that not point during childhood. only would diminish rates of incarceration but also would help children who have already been affected by parental incarceration. We seek to demonstrate that parental incarceration is common, unequally distributed, and largely detrimental to child Paternal incarceration well-being, although the harmful effects of parental incarceration are more settled for induces household instability, paternal incarceration than for maternal incarceration. increases the risk of childhood The scope of the criminal justice system has grown substantially. In 1980, about homelessness, and increases 500,000 people were incarcerated in prisons and jails. That number had ballooned to dependence on public 1, 2 Such high rates of incarceration have implications for more than 2.3 million by 2007. assistance. children and families because most people who serve time are not just inmates but also parents.3 Children of incarcerated parents are not well represented in national surveys or administrative data; as a result, calculating how many people have ever had a parent Decarceration efforts with incarcerated is extraordinarily difficult. In 2010, researchers from the Bureau of Justice support and rehabilitations Statistics found that about 1.9 million children younger than age 18 had a parent currently programs promote stability 3 A more recent survey estimated that about 5 million children (approximately incarcerated. and health for vulnerable 7% of all minor children) had experienced the incarceration of a residential parent at some families. 4 point during childhood. These estimates are most certainly undercounts because they are restricted to children with currently incarcerated parents or children who experienced the incarceration of a parent who lived with them; the true number of people who have ever Policies and interventions had this experience is unknown. must respect variability The cause of mass incarceration in the United States is a source of debate among scholars, among prisoners and their 5, 6, 7, 8 and a massive research literature is devoted to the topic. There is little debate about families and support local- the following, however: Mass incarceration arose from a series of policy choices and was and state-level reforms. 9, 10 not the “natural” result of fluctuations in the crime rate. Examples of such choices include mandatory-minimum policies that require incarceration for some crimes, so-called three- strikes policies that have dramatically increased sentence lengths, and policies like the war 11 on drugs that have drastically increased the risk of imprisonment for women. How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It 1

2 Policy Brief unusually unstable, have serious mental health and substance As a result of such policy choices, and even with imperfect abuse problems, or are especially violent appear less harmed estimates of the number of children affected, it is clear that by parental incarceration. Importantly, however, these parental incarceration is common. Yet this is not the only facet that deserves attention, as the concentration of parental children do not appear to benefit from it either. As a result, incarceration among the most marginalized segments of policies that address underlying problems as an alternative to incarceration are likely to benefit all children. Criminal justice society is also a vital concern. In one survey, 44% of Black policies that seek to enhance the well-being of children of women and 32% of Black men reported having a family incarcerated parents should not, therefore, focus just on the member incarcerated, compared to just 12% of White women 12 These disparities are evident among and 6% of White men. “low-hanging fruit” of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes or other nonviolent crimes. Similarly, policies that reduce children as well; another study estimates that although just under 4% of White children will experience the incarceration trauma and uncertainty related to arrest, court processing, and incarceration would benefit all children, regardless of the of a parent before their 14th birthday, parental incarceration 13 characteristics or quality of the relationship they have with an affects at least 25% of all African American children. incarcerated parent. Parental Incarceration Burdens Vulnerable Hidden Costs of Paternal Incarceration Families Paternal incarceration induces household instability, increases Parental incarceration creates significant burdens for families. Incarceration—and contact with the criminal justice system the risk of childhood homelessness, and increases dependence 15. 16. 17 on public assistance. more broadly—increases, sometimes dramatically, family Maintaining contact with incarcerated parents induces additional and significant costs to instability, unemployment, socioeconomic disadvantage, families; one study found that families of inmates may spend substance use, and mental health problems, to give just a 9, 14 Because the children who experience parental short list. up to one-third of their income on cards, letters, and visits 18 with incarcerated family members. Paternal incarceration incarceration already live in families that disproportionately is indirectly costly for families as well as taxpayers. Paternal struggle with many of these issues, the harms that stem incarceration introduces a cascade of problems. It increases from having a parent incarcerated build on a broad array mental health and behavioral problems in children, reducing of difficulties that these children already face. The available 19, 20, 21, school performance and leading to grade retention. research on children of incarcerated parents varies with respect 22 In a series of analyses, we estimated the effect of paternal to quality, but the most rigorous work confirms that parental incarceration is a new and consequential source of harm for an incarceration on several important determinants of child already-vulnerable group of children. well-being. Our estimates suggest that paternal incarceration increased internalizing problems like depression and anxiety For many children, parental incarceration worsens well-being (5%–6%), externalizing problems (4%–6%), and aggression and increases disadvantage. Research on the effects of paternal (by 18%–33%) (see Figure 1). Paternal incarceration is strongly incarceration is better established in large part because linked to more serious consequences as well; it increased paternal incarceration is more common (and hence better the risk of infant mortality by 47%–49% and childhood represented in large data sets, thus leading to stronger tests homelessness by 94%–99% (see Figure 2). Because of large that make it easier to identify the particular causal effects of racial disparities in the likelihood of experiencing paternal parental incarceration, relative to maternal incarceration, for incarceration, Figure 3 uses historical incarceration rates to children). Such research is clear that paternal incarceration show how further increases in the incarceration rate have led is harmful for most children. Maternal incarceration is more to increases in racial disparities in childhood disadvantage. variable; children of incarcerated mothers appear to be subject to more instability before and as a consequence Children With Mothers in Prison of incarceration. One thing that is clear from the research Before discussing the effects of maternal incarceration on children, which are hotly contested, a brief statement we review here is that there is little evidence that the is in order. The children of incarcerated mothers are an consequences of parental incarceration for children differ for parents convicted of violent crimes, drug crimes, or other extraordinarily high-risk group. Yet the research on whether nonviolent crimes. Only the children of parents who are maternal incarceration has a causal effect on these children is 2 How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It

3 Policy Brief the poor outcomes of children of incarcerated mothers are unclear. Some research suggests that maternal incarceration 17, 18, 23, 24 Yet other research suggests that inflicts massive harms. driven not by maternal incarceration but by other risk factors— especially high levels of financial instability and economic 25, 26, 27 hardship—that precede maternal incarceration. FIGURE 1. PERCENTAGE INCREASE IN MENTAL Regardless of which of these divergent findings researchers HEALTH AND BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS DUE TO and policymakers put more stock in, the fact remains that PATERNAL INCARCERATION interventions to directly help the children of incarcerated mothers are likely to yield substantial benefits. Conclusion Parental incarceration is now common and concentrated among the most vulnerable families. Especially for paternal incarceration, there are also clear and strong signals that this event further disadvantages an already-marginalized group. Policies that both decrease imprisonment and provide support to the most vulnerable families will yield substantial benefits. FIGURE 3. PERCENTAGE INCREASE IN BLACK–WHITE Note. Low and high estimates refer to the lower and upper bounds of causal DISPARITIES IN CHILD WELL-BEING DUE TO effects estimated with a variety of statistical models. From Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality, by INCARCERATION, BASED ON PATERNAL INCARCERATION S. Wakefield & C. Wildeman, 2013, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 138. RISKS FOR CHILDREN IN 1978 AND 1990 FIGURE 2. PERCENTAGE INCREASE IN RISKS OF HOMELESSNESS AND INFANT MORTALITY DUE TO PATERNAL INCARCERATION Note. Low and high estimates refer to the lower and upper bounds of causal Note. From Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future effects estimated with a variety of statistical models. From Children of the of American Inequality, by S. Wakefield & C. Wildeman, 2013, New York: Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality, by S. Wakefield & C. Wildeman, 2013, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 139. Oxford University Press, p. 141. How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It 3

4 Policy Brief References 1 20 Glaze, L. E., & Kaebel, D. (2014). Correctional populations in the United States, Turney, K., & Haskins, A. R. (2014). Falling behind? Children’s early grade 2013 . Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. retention after paternal incarceration. Sociology of Education, 87 (4), 241–258. 2 21 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. (2014). Number and rate (per Haskins, A. R. (2014). Unintended consequences: Effects of paternal 100,000 resident population in each group) of sentenced prisoners under incarceration on school readiness and later special education placement. jurisdiction of State and Federal correctional authorities on December 31. , 141–158. Sociological Science, 1 Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 22 Geller, A., Cooper, C. E., Garfinkel, I., Schwartz-Soicher, O., & Mincy, R. B. Retrieved from www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t6282009.pdf (2012). Beyond absenteeism: Father incarceration and child development. 3 Glaze, L. E., & Maruschak, L. M. (2010). Parents in prison and their minor (1), 49–76. Demography, 49 children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice 23 Hagan, J., & Foster, H. (2012). Intergenerational educational effects of mass Statistics. Retrieved from www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pptmc.pdf (3), 259–286. imprisonment. Sociology of Education, 83 4 Parents behind bars: What happens to Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). 24 Huebner, B. M., & Gustafson, R. (2007). The effect of maternal incarceration Washington, DC: Child Trends. their children? on offspring involvement in the criminal justice system. Journal of Criminal 5 The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color Alexander, M. (2010). Justice, 35 , 283–296. New York, NY: New Press. blindness. 25 Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Detrimental for some? Heterogenous 6 The culture of control: Crime and social order in Garland, D. (2001). Criminology and Public effects of maternal incarceration on child wellbeing. contemporary society. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Policy, 14 (1), 125–156. 7 26 Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed Cho, R. M. (2009). The impact of maternal imprisonment on children’s New York, NY: Oxford American democracy and created a culture of fear. Journal probability of grade retention: Results from Chicago public schools. University Press. , 11–23. of Urban Economics, 65 8 27 Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social Cho, R. M. (2009). The impact of maternal incarceration on children’s Durham, NC: Duke University Press. insecurity. educational achievement: Results from Chicago public schools. Journal of , 772–797. Human Resources, 44 9 Annual Wakefield, S., & Uggen, C. (2010). Incarceration and stratification. 28 Review of Sociology, 36 (1), 387–406. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102551 Comfort, M. (2016, May). “A twenty hour a day job”: The repercussive effects Annals of the of frequent low-level criminal justice involvement on family life. 10 National Research Council, Committee on Law and Justice, Division of , 63–79. American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665 The growth of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. (2014). 29 incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. Collateral consequences: Incarceration’s effect on Pew Charitable Trusts. (2010). Washington, DC: National Academies Press. economic mobility. Washington, DC: Author. 11 30 Daedalus, Kruttschnitt, C. (2010). The paradox of women’s imprisonment. Lindsey, A. M., Mears, D. P., Cochran, J. C., Bales, W. D., & Stults, B. J. (2017). In 139 (3), 32–42. prison and far from home: Spatial distance effects on inmate misconduct. Crime & Delinquency, 63 , 1043-1065. 12 Lee, H., McCormick, T., Hicken, M., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Racial inequalities 31 Du Bois and connectedness to imprisoned individuals in the Unites States. Cochran, J. C., & Mears, D. P. (2013). Social isolation and inmate behavior: , 1–14. Review A framework for theorizing prison visitation and guiding and assessing research. (4), 252–261. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41 13 Wildeman, C. (2009). Parental imprisonment, the prison boom, and the 32 , 265–280. Demography, 46 concentration of childhood advantage. Cochran, J. C. (2012). The ties that bond or the ties that break: Examining the relationships between visitation and prisoner misconduct. Journal of 14 Parental incarceration and the family: Psychological and social Arditti, J. (2012). , 433–440. Criminal Justice, 40 effects of imprisonment on children, parents, and caregivers. New York, NY: 33 New York University Press. Wakefield, S., & Powell, K. (2016). Distinguishing ‘petty offenders’ from Annals of the ‘serious criminals’ in the estimation of family life effects. 15 Sugie, N. (2012). Punishment and welfare: Paternal incarceration and families’ (1), 195–212. American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665 Social Forces, 90 receipt of public assistance. (4), 1403–1427. 34 Wakefield, S., Lee, H., & Wildeman, C. (2016, May). Tough on crime, tough on 16 Schwartz-Soicher, O., Geller, A., & Garfinkel, I. (2011). The effect of paternal Annals of the American families? Criminal justice and family life in America. Social Service Review, 3 , 447–473. incarceration on material hardship. (1), 8–21. Academy of Political and Social Science, 665 17 Wildeman, C., Turney, K., & Yi, Y. (2016). Paternal incarceration and family 35 Hard bargains: The coercive power of drug laws in federal Lynch, M. (2016). functioning: Variation across federal, state, and local facilities. Annals of the court. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. (1), 80–97. American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665 36 Jail inmates at midyear 2010: Statistical tables. Minton, T. D. (2011). 18 Grinstead, O., Faigeles, B., Bancroft, C., & Zack, B. (2001). The financial costs of Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. maintaining relationships with incarcerated African American men: A survey Retrieved from www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim10st.pdf Journal of African American Men, 6 of women prison visitors. (1), 59–69. 19 Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass New York, NY: Oxford incarceration and the future of American inequality. University Press. 4 How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It

5 Policy Brief RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICYMAKERS The body of research on parental incarceration suggests a number of guidelines for policymakers. We outline each of them here: „ Families Account for children from the point of arrest: „ „ Criminal „ Criminal justice reform must address violence: should be included and accounted for in criminal justice justice reform should not be limited to certain decision making. At the point of arrest, police officers categories of inmates. Prisoners are as varied as families, require training to address the safety and well-being of and reform efforts directed at one category (e.g., those children present during an arrest. Even when children convicted of drug or nonviolent crimes) may not reach are not present, those children whose primary caregivers 33, 34 Because many children of incarcerated parents. are arrested immediately experience instability. Such most prisoners in state facilities are incarcerated for experiences are traumatizing for children and present a violent crimes, excluding this category of prisoner from 25 clear safety risk. decarceration efforts offers little hope for substantially „ Explore alternatives to incarceration for primary „ reducing the incarceration rate. Even if all prisoners caregivers: There are good arguments for allowing family convicted of drug crimes were released from prison, responsibility exceptions to incarceration. Employment the United States would remain a global leader in the 29 is often used to justify weekend jail sentences, and use of incarceration. An overemphasis by policymakers family connections could be leveraged in much the on any one category of inmate, especially one that same way. Such policies would account for the fact that ignores violence, represents a consequential misreading prisoners who maintain contact with family are less likely 35 of the criminal justice population. Criminal justice to recidivate and have lower rates of misconduct while reform should be local: Related to the previous item, an 30, 31, 32 incarcerated. overemphasis on the federal system makes little sense „ In cases Prioritize family connections while incarcerated: „ given the size and idiosyncrasies of that population. where alternatives to incarceration are not possible, The federal prison population is small and houses a policies that prioritize proximity to family when assigning disproportionate number of serious drug offenders, the convicted to secure facilities would yield benefits. immigration cases, and those convicted on weapons Inmates who are connected to family are less anxious, charges (see Figure 4). Reform that targets fewer than less traumatized, and less likely to recidivate. Secure 200,000 prisoners is, by definition, less consequential, facilities should prioritize contact with family, thereby considering the more than 1.3 million prisoners in state easing the costs associated with family engagement while facilities or the more than 8 million people who pass 18 Such policies may result in safer facilities incarcerated. 36 through local jails each year. Policies that are more and save money by contributing to lower recidivism rates. local in nature are likely to have greater impact as well Pay attention to what takes the place of incarceration: „ „ as appropriately address variability across prisoners Policymakers who are committed to reducing incarceration and their families. For example, reforms that target should pay attention to what takes its place. Assisting drug offenders might look very different in contexts families and children of incarcerated parents requires struggling with the opioid crisis from those in locales addressing underlying substance abuse and mental health that prioritize gang violence reduction. Policymakers are 33 problems that often lead to incarceration. Similarly, likely to improve the lives of children when they make the economic costs of incarceration are often linked to funds available for alternatives to incarceration but allow economic instability prior to incarceration. Programs that communities to direct funds to areas of greater need. reduce incarceration while also tackling these underlying Such policies would recognize the wide variety of needs problems will improve health and well-being for children of and challenges for prisoners and their families. incarcerated parents. Finally, family well-being is improved when reentry planning is ongoing and supported. continued on page 6 How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It 5

6 Policy Brief Author Bios continued from page 5 Sara Wakefield, Ph.D. , is Associate Professor in the School of Criminal „ „ The children of prisoners Move from parent-focused to child-driven interventions: Justice at Rutgers University, require assistance irrespective of their relationship with an incarcerated parent. Newark. Her research interests While children who remain in contact with an incarcerated parent may have focus on the consequences of mass imprisonment for the different needs from those who have little contact, having an incarcerated parent family, with an emphasis on child remains an important marker of disadvantage. Policies that address household well-being and racial inequality. instability, material disadvantage, mental health and well-being challenges, and Her related work examines the educational deficits that flow from parental incarceration are child centered, not social networks and conditions of confinement of inmates from parent centered, and may assist all vulnerable children. incarceration through reentry. Christopher Wildeman, Ph.D. , is Associate Professor of Policy Analysis of Management at FIGURE 4. PRISONERS IN STATE AND FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL Cornell University, where he FACILITIES, BY OFFENSE TYPE is also Associate Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and Codirector of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. His research resolves around the prevalence, causes, and consequences of criminal justice and Child Protective Services contact. National Council on Family Relations 661 LaSalle Street, Suite 200 St. Paul, MN 55114 Toll free: 888-781-9331 Fax: 763-781-9348 www.ncfr.org Note. From Prisoners in 2014, by E. A. Carson, 2015, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Copyright © 2018 National Council on Family Relations This policy brief may be duplicated, distributed, or posted electronically with attribution to the National Council on Family Relations. Inclusion of portions or all of this brief in printed or electronic textbooks, anthologies, or other publications requires permission from NCFR. The views expressed within this publication may not represent the views or policies of the entire organization. To see all NCFR research briefs and policy briefs, visit ncfr.org/publications/research- and-policy-briefs Joyce A. Arditti, Ph.D., Policy Brief Editor How Parental Incarceration Harms Children and What to Do About It 6

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