Child incarceration and long-term adult health outcomes: a longitudinal study

Int J Prison Health. 2018 Mar 12;14(1):26-33. doi: 10.1108/IJPH-09-2016-0052.


Purpose Although incarceration may have life-long negative health effects, little is known about associations between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The paper aims to discuss this issue. Design/methodology/approach The authors analyzed data from 14,689 adult participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to compare adult health outcomes among those first incarcerated between 7 and 13 years of age (child incarceration); first incarcerated at>or=14 years of age; and never incarcerated. Findings Compared to the other two groups, those with a history of child incarceration were disproportionately black or Hispanic, male, and from lower socio-economic strata. Additionally, individuals incarcerated as children had worse adult health outcomes, including general health, functional limitations (climbing stairs), depressive symptoms, and suicidality, than those first incarcerated at older ages or never incarcerated. Research limitations/implications Despite the limitations of the secondary database analysis, these findings suggest that incarcerated children are an especially medically vulnerable population. Practical implications Programs and policies that address these medically vulnerable children's health needs through comprehensive health and social services in place of, during, and/or after incarceration are needed. Social implications Meeting these unmet health and social service needs offers an important opportunity to achieve necessary health care and justice reform for children. Originality/value No prior studies have examined the longitudinal relationship between child incarceration and adult health outcomes.

Keywords: Health policy; Juvenile offenders; Offender health; Public health; Suicide; Young offenders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States