Paper Example on Parental Incarceration Impact on Child Behavior

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1638 Words
Date:  2022-06-23


The increasing number of children with an incarcerated parent reflects the most significant consequence of the prison population records within the U.S. A study by Rutgers University (2014) indicates that more than 2.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent. This represents 1 in every 28 children. An estimate of 10 million children has experienced parental incarceration at one point or another in their lives ("Rutgers University," 2014). Moreover, half of the children with incarcerated parents are below ten years old. The impact on children that results from parental incarceration relates to parental substance abuse, inadequate education, mental health and other challenges which are more prevalent in impoverished environs. The children, therefore, live in poverty and experience household instability. There exists a misconception that the children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be incarcerated than their peers due to their increased exposure to criminal activities ("Rutgers University," 2014).

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Various studies have been conducted to determine the effect of parental incarceration on children. Haskins (2016) analyzed the effects of paternal incarceration on the children's cognitive and non-cognitive behaviors. The study showed that children between the ages of 1 to 9 who experienced their first-time paternal incarceration reported antisocial behaviors that included internalizing, externalizing and early delinquency problems. Paternal incarceration is also linked to poor performance among the affected children on cognitive assessments due to socioemotional problems, lagged impacts on cognitive skill acquisitions due to stress and stigma (Haskins, 2016). Further studies conducted on parental incarceration and the children's well-being showed that children of incarcerated parents face more economical and residential instability which provide clear indications of penurious surroundings. Moreover, the sons of incarcerated fathers display more behavioral problems with other insignificant developmental differences (Geller et al., 2010). Wright and Seymour (2015) researched the effects of parental incarceration on children and families. According to the study, parental incarceration results in poverty, use of alcohol and drugs, criminal activities, child maltreatment, previous separations and other arrests and incarcerations that influence the child's behavioral development.

This literature review provides an in-depth analysis of parental incarceration and how it affects the children's risky behavior/juvenile delinquency in a family that resides in an impoverished neighborhood.

Literature Review

Since the 1970s, the United States has utilized incarceration as the primary method of punishment, leading to more parents held in jails and prison. In fact, the number of parents held in prisons with children under the age of eighteen continues to increase (Gitterman, 2014). According to Siegel (2017), there were about 1,150,200 parent inmates in the local jails and federal prisons, with more than 2,413,700 minor children as per 2002. The primary concern with the high levels of incarceration of parents is the resulting low-income parents, leaving some children to feed themselves and their siblings. Poverty increases the chances of such children developing criminal behavior especially when living in a poor neighborhood (Gitterman, 2014). The impoverished neighborhood provides a suitable environment where such children can engage in criminal behaviors such as stealing from people so that they can get what they require. With parents incarcerated, poverty stricken families could not afford. The increase in the levels of poverty results in high criminal rates.

Some studies concentrate on the hardships faced by children of the imprisoned parents. However, the literature fails to focus on the impact of the criminal justice experience of the criminal parents and how it may affect the children. Most literature shows that a family passes through devastating effects after the incarceration of a parent, especially in employment and income. With the current prison system, incarcerated parents may earn some cash though little through selling some of the things made in prison; examples include woodwork and clothes. Money earned from such activities will not support a family and creates an environment that fosters the development of criminal minds due to need; such as, stealing what the parents fail to provide. Even after the parents' release from jail, parents face social and structural barriers to employment. As a result, providing for a family requires a long period, creating an opportunity for children to turn to crime (DiClemente, Hansen and Ponton, 1996).

More research investigated employment issues faced by the convicts after release; less research on the economic consequences of the parent's incarceration. Upon release, the parents unite with the family; however, more often than not, the ex-convict parent may have no way to financially support the family as expected. This difficulty creates additional risk, increasing the opportunity for the parent and even attracts children to adopt criminal activities to maintain lifestyles.

Instability remains the norm for a household following the incarceration of a parent. Children no longer find the emotional, psychological or spiritual support of the parents. The void of guidance on good or bad, right or wrong, fuels further instability. Children of unstable households find comfort somewhere else, and join groups with the affluent neighborhood children, providing an entry into abusing drugs. Homes without love or apparent care force children to find such support elsewhere. As such children engage in drug abuse, the risk of developing other deliquescent behaviors such as stealing and showing violent behavior increase (Siegel, 2017).

After imprisonment, families break down from the challenges. In instances where a parent receives a life sentence, the remaining parent rarely holds on to the relationship or security created. The non-serving parent moves on with their life, with the most significant effect weighing on the children. The possible impacts of separation create an environment ripe for delinquent behaviors, poor adaptive strategies and developing low-self-esteem. Unstable child-care arrangements arise, and stigma associated with incarceration affects the entire life of the child, even decision-making.

Studies on the effects of parental incarceration on the welfare of the child primarily focus on the intergenerational transmission of criminality. Such studies indicate that there are high chances of female children with incarcerated fathers engaging in delinquent and antisocial behavior mostly during the adolescent period (Harris, Graham and Carpenter, 2010). Since the child interacts with the father, they can learn how the father cops when in jail, and such boys feel that since their parent survived the prison conditions, they can as well survive. Some parents even involve their female children in criminal activities, for instance, the drug dealers show their children where to supply the drugs, mostly in the well-off neighborhood. On investigating such regions, they may find more valuable things and get tempted to take even using violent.

Incarceration of the parent, especially when it is a single parent, increases the probability of the child getting into crime. The single parent may have been the sole provider, and once they are no longer there, it is an indication that the children will have to take care of themselves. When living in a poor neighborhood, such children gang up with other criminals for guidance on committing crimes. In the poor neighborhoods, gang groups stand ready and willing to accept children in such circumstances and often use such children to commit crimes. Vulnerable children, with no parents, and no home, end up on the streets committing a crime to maintain their lives (In Gitterman, 2014).

Similarities and Differences between Studies

The studies conducted on the risk of having incarcerated parents impact the behavior of the children show some similarities. Such studies indicate high chances of children with incarcerated parents adopting criminal behavior. The risk of criminal behavior is accelerated by the neighborhood (Chesney-Lind and Mauer, 2011). Research shows that in the poor areas the crime rates are high. When a child is in such an environment and has no one to guide them, they end up ganging up with criminal groups, feeling a sense of belonging. Some children, especially the first-born, shoulder the responsibility of taking care of the rest of the children; crime is considered as the easiest way out in the poor neighborhoods.

The sources vary in the way they provide the information. Some provide information on the economic, social and cultural effects of having parents who are imprisoned. Some of the articles do not show the social and cultural impacts of having incarcerated parents. Some articles examine the collateral effect of mass imprisonment on the children (Chesney-Lind and Mauer, 2011). Harris, Graham, and Carpenter (2010) conducted a specific study on the developmental issue that the children of the incarcerated parents face in life and clinical help that can be provided.

A gap of knowledge appears apparent. No study conducted so far interviews the children with incarcerated studies to help determine the emotional and psychological impacts on the children. The participation of the society and the government appears lacking. Few studies even touch on the involvement of government in improving the lives of the parents which have been released from jail so that they enter the workforce and provide financial stability for their families.


Parental incarceration identifies families that face severe hardship that cannot be explained by other observable family characteristics. With the prevalence of incarceration, the findings of the literature review indicate that a large population of children suffer unmet material requirements, residential instability and other various behavioral problems that accompany their poor environs. According to Gitterman (2014), parental imprisonment causes the children to fend for themselves while their poor neighborhoods cause them to reside in criminal activities. DiClemente, Hansen, and Ponton (1996) highlight that parents fail to provide for their children even after finishing their term in jail thereby causing the children to turn to criminal activities. Siegel (2017) found out that children from unstable backgrounds and imprisoned parents find comfort in drug abuse increasing their risk of delinquent behaviors. Harris, Graham, and Carpenter (2010) illustrate that some incarcerated parents involve their children in criminal activities such as drug peddling to meet their daily needs. Chesney-Lind and Mauer (2011) found out that criminal activities are accelerated by the neighborhoods, and the poor and children of imprisoned parents stand at high risk of being influenced. Therefore, interventions should be directed to the families facing parental incarceration to assist in promoting health...

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