High rates of imprisonment among American men and women have motivated recent research on the well-being of children of incarcerated parents. Despite advances in the literature, little is known regarding the mental health status of children who experience maternal relative to paternal incarceration. Accordingly, we examine whether there are differences in mental health needs among children of incarcerated parents. Specifically, we assess whether incarcerated mothers are more likely than incarcerated fathers to report that their children suffer from mental health problems. Using cross-sectional data on children (N = 1,221) compiled from a sample of parents confined in the Arizona Department of Corrections, we find that children of incarcerated mothers are significantly more likely to be identified as suffering from mental health problems. This effect remained even after controlling for additional parent stressors and child risk factors such as exposure to violence, in utero exposure to drugs/alcohol, and parental mental illness. Policy implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Keywords: children’s mental health; parental incarceration.