Children Left Behind: Effects of Incarceration on Children Paper Example

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1818 Words
Date:  2022-07-25


The US has the highest number of incarcerations compared to all other developed nations (Nichols and Loper 2012). Effects of imprisonment traverse an individual to have a rippling effect on society. Imprisonment of parents does not only affects their individual well-being but also significantly impacts on the children who are left behind. Most of these children suffer psychological and physical losses following the imprisonment of their parents. Some factors such as race play a significant role in the extent to which incarceration of parents affects children since it determines who takes over parenting responsibilities. Incarceration of parents places children at a disadvantage in comparison to their counterparts whose parents are not incarcerated (Geller, Garfinkel & Western 2011). The lack of emotional and financial support affects the lives of these children, particularly regarding their future. To a great extent, locking away parents, especially mothers is detrimental to children.

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Psychological and Emotional effects

Incarceration of parents breaks essential social bonds. When parents are locked away, the bond between them and their children is bound to weaken over time due to poor communication. In most instances, the incarcerated parents and their relations are of low economic status making trips to the prison expensive. In addition to this, the separation of children from their parents is exacerbated by visitation rules for prisons that do not favor children (Dell'Antonia 2016). Most prisons require that children should sit still during the entire six-hour visit for instance. Also, in some cases, the children may have to travel long distances, up to four hours to visit their parents; which is too hectic (Nichols & Loper 2012). The effect of this is that there is minimal communication between a parent and their child. The separation causes emotional pain to these children. They are likely to develop behavioral adjustment problems to cope with the absence of a parent (Nichols & Loper 2012). One of the most common ways children deal with the absence of parents is by engaging in detrimental habits such as substance abuse. Substance abuse impacts on other spheres of their lives are thereby impacting on their future (Nichols & Loper 2012).

In comparison to children without incarcerated parents, they are more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), depression anxiety, and other stress-related problems. For this reason, 25 percent of these children usually drop out of school; of this percentage, 55 percent do so following their incarceration (Morsy & Rothstein 2016). Therefore, the racial disparity in incarceration affects the life chances of children of color, especially perpetuating racial inequality.

Economic Effects

One of the main effects of paternal imprisonment on children is economical. In the US, the rates of imprisonment are highest among people of low socioeconomic status (Geller et al. 2011). Incarceration impacts the economic welfare of family is through its effects on the performance of men in the labor market and due to being locked away. The earnings obtained in prison are meager making it impossible for incarcerated parents to provide for their families financially adequately. In addition to this, incarcerated men are less likely to obtain a well-paying job after serving their jail term (Geller et al. 2011). The possible reasons for this are that employers shy away from employing individuals with criminal records and that during the time in prison their productivity decreased. As previously stated, on most occasions incarceration results in separation of men from their families. The separation affects the amount of financial support offered by fathers to the family in their absence. Studies indicate that financial support from fathers is substantially dependent on their custody and residential status (Geller et al. 2011). Thereby, when men are separated from their families, they contribute less economically than when they are a part of the household. The net effect of this on children with incarcerated fathers is that they are financially disadvantaged.

The economic strain on families due to imprisonment of the parent(s) continues even after a parent has been released from prison due to the difficulty for ex-convicts to obtain a job even if they are qualified. The case is worse for women, as studies reveal it harder for a woman has been previously convicted of a crime, especially a felony to be employed in comparison to men (Reviere & Young 2007). The stigmatization faced by those imprisoned is extended to children whose parents have been incarcerated. It makes it harder for this children to be emotionally and psychologically well since it adds problems to their already stressful life. The effect of this is stress on these children that encourages harmful behaviors to cope with the stress of not being able to fit into social settings. To a great extent, the stress greatly affects the lives of these children and makes them more likely to engage in criminal activities.

Impact on Academic Outcomes of Children

The educational outcomes of children with incarcerated parents are significantly poor in comparison to their counterparts in the general population. The observed poor academic performance is a result of difficulties these children face and the maladaptive behaviors due to separation from their parent and the breaking of important social bonds. Habits such as substance abuse tend to promote truancy and increased absence from school. Other factors such as changing households also contribute to increased absence from school among these children (Nichols & Loper 2010). There are times when these children are not sure about where they will be living for the next couple of months or the school they will be attending. The implication of this is that they stay out of school for significantly longer periods. It negatively affects their academic life. Also, emotional and psychological in these children contribute to their poor academic outcomes since they are unable to focus in school. The poor academic outcomes in these children have a serious impact on their future life since it determines whether or not they get to college; a significant consideration for employment opportunities. It then follows that these children will have a difficult time getting stable jobs when they become adults. It increases the likelihood of them committing crimes in the future, due to poverty and stress. Therefore, it is apparent that parental incarceration significantly affects the academic performance of children, which in turn affects their life chances.

When children are separated from their parents due to incarceration, they are bound to have psychological and emotional problems. Studies indicate that 70 percent of children whose parents are imprisoned portray signs of psychological and emotional disturbances such as substance abuse and aggression (Baker et al. 2011). Stigma due to having incarcerated parents also contributes to this. Predominantly, their academic performance is significantly affected by this stress and the resultant maladaptive behaviors. The impact of parental imprisonment on the psychological and emotional health of children is quite significant due to the high number of inmates in the US. By 2016, it was estimated that in Maryland, about 6 percent of children had an incarcerated parent and 5.1 million of children in America have had a parent imprisoned at some point (McDaniels 2016).


As previously stated, when parents are jailed, the responsibility of parenting is transferred to someone else, or there is co-parenting. For instance, where a child is taken care of by a close relative following imprisonment of a parent, there could be maternal grandmother-mother co-parenting. Although the grandparent may try to replace the parent in taking care of the child, she cannot be as effective as when the parent is directly involved in taking care of their children. Some factors come into play when there is co-parenting. In most cases, there are conflicts involved in co-parenting, making cooperation difficult (Baker et al. 2010). The grandparent may ignore some of the recommendations made by the mother regarding how an issue related to parenting should be handled. The conflict in parenting styles negatively affects children. It tends to lead to poor adjustment of a child to their new environment and circumstances.


A study of incarceration patterns in the US reveals that it is more than a criminal justice issue. There exist racial disparities in the manner in which white and black populations are incarcerated. In the US, for every 100, 000 people, 700 are in prison (Morsy & Rothstein 2016). The number is unrivaled in other developed countries. The number of inmates in the US has continued to rise since the 1990's despite the steady decrease in crime rates. It reflects a fundamental policy problem in the criminal justice system. Most of these defective policies affect African Americans living in poor neighborhoods. Therefore, out of every 100, 000 people of color, 2200 are in prison (Morsy & Rothstein, 2016). The number is quite high in comparison to other races. For whites, where it is only 400 people per every 100,000 (Morsy & Rothstein 2016). The high number of incarceration of African Americans of low economic status is attributed to policies such as President Trump's "stop and frisk" policy that targets poor African American neighborhoods (Morsy & Rothstein 2016). The effect of this on children is that for black children, they are six times more likely to have an incarcerated parent in comparison to their white counterparts. Most of these parents are usually in jail for non-violent offenses such as possession of drugs, not adhering to parole regulations, etc. The implication of this is that black children are at a higher risk regarding the negative consequences of parental incarceration. These include economic hardships and emotional and psychological stress from the separation from their parents. These significantly affect the physical health and academic outcomes of these children.


In the criminal justice system, taking away of custody of parents following incarceration is a common occurrence. It is especially common where a mother is convicted of a given crime. Although the effects of incarceration of any parent are detrimental to the family, locking away, a mother has more significant implications for the family. When a mother is jailed, the family is more likely to fall apart as compared to when it is a father. The responsibility of parenting reveals the society's gendered division of roles within the household (Reviere & Young 2007). It is estimated that about 66-80 percent of women in prison are mothers (Reviere & Young 2007). Children of color have a higher chance of having an incarcerated parent; nine times more than white children (Reviere & Young 2007). The effect of imprisonment of a mother differs to some degree among white children and children of color. For black children, when their mother gets locked away, they are more likely to be placed under the care of grandparents or other relatives. For white children, they are more likely to be put in foster care or live with a single parent. Where siblings have different fathers, they are usually separated. The separation has negative implications on these children as it tends to cause adjustment problems. In both cases, the separation of...

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