Parental incarceration and multiple risk experiences: effects on family dynamics and children's delinquency

J Youth Adolesc. 2010 Dec;39(12):1471-84. doi: 10.1007/s10964-009-9458-0. Epub 2009 Oct 16.


Children of incarcerated parents are exposed to factors that place them at risk for delinquency. Few studies have examined the effects of having an incarcerated parent after controlling for other experiences such as contextual risk factors and family processes. Past studies have also not examined effects of recent, but not current, parental incarceration on children. The present study examines an archival dataset, in which children aged 10-14 years and their parents/guardians reported children's risk experiences (e.g., exposure to poverty, parental substance use), family processes (e.g., level of family victimization, family conflict), and children's delinquent behaviors at two time points. Parents also reported their recent and past incarceration history. Hierarchical linear regression analyses show that a history of parental incarceration predicted family victimization, delinquent behaviors of children's older siblings, and delinquent behaviors of the child participants, over and above children's demographic characteristics and other risk experiences. Recent parental incarceration predicted family conflict, family victimization, and parent-reports of children's delinquency after also controlling for previous parental incarceration. The role of family processes in research and intervention directions involving children of incarcerated parents is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Educational Status
  • Family Conflict / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Paternal Deprivation
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Socialization*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology