The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

There has been an increasing concern on the issue of parental incarceration and the impact that it has on children. In one study Bloom & Phillips, 2017 argued that about 2.7 million children have a likelihood of going to prison because of their parents becoming incarcerated. Further studies have also demonstrated that the idea of jailing parents traumatizes children more than health problems, divorce and even other social issues (). The idea that one’s a parent has been once in prison does so much damage to the child that it makes them more susceptible to going to jail at one point the lives. Therefore, as much as the correction subsystem in the country might be focused on dealing with crime, one thing that seems to come out is that it has created a youthful population that is more likely to end up in prison than reducing it. There is clear evidence that incarceration of parents leads to an increased level of ending up in jail for the children. While people might argue that incarceration of parent does not affect children, it is evidence that the impact that it has is way beyond other social problems.

One of the impacts of parental incarceration on children is that it increases criminal involvement. There is a concern on the fact parent’s incarceration eventually leads to the circle of intergenerational criminal behavior. From the study, by Bloom & Phillips, (2017) children of parents that have been in prison are at a six times likelihood of being imprisoned. However, it is often hard to find out these risk factors. From a study () it is argued that children from a mother that has once been in jail have a higher rate of being taken to prison. Besides, the children are more likely to get arrested than those that have fathers that have been in jail (). One thing that seems to come out is that mothers being the primary caregiver and offering support for the children has a significant role in the child’s life. That’s the reason that most of them are more likely to get to prison. It is evident that the incarceration of children makes them to more susceptible to criminal involvement.

The parental incarceration also leads to psychological and antisocial behavior among the children. There have been various researches have sought to understand the relationship between gender race, age, and cases of incarceration among children (Rojas-Flores et al., 2017). The studies have found out the children who have a mother and father who are incarcerated exhibit higher cases of depression. Children’s whose parents are incarcerated are mostly associated with higher incidents of aggression. One thing that seems clear is that parental incarceration falls under the umbrella of antisocial behavior that includes acts of antisocial and criminality. Therefore, there is a need to understand the relationship between antisocial behavior among children and the increased cases of parental incarceration. One of the studies has always pointed out is that the lack of parenting often puts so much pressure among the kids (Rossiter et al., 2017). Most of these kids whose parents are away would often feel that they have been denied something (Rojas-Flores et al., 2017). The idea that their parents are behind bars makes them have a negative attitude towards the justice systems since they blame it for keeping their loved ones away. The detest leads them to be more rebellious, and thus they end up engaging more in crimes. Therefore incarceration among parents leads to psychological problems among the children that eventually lead them to depressions.

Parental incarceration has a bearing on the children’s educational attainment. Research has revealed that there is a relationship between low educational attainment and the imprisonment of parents (Knopf, 2018). The reason that pushes the changes in education performance is that there are often cases of externalization problems. Due to the externalization behavior most of these children are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school (Knopf, 2018). The issue of parenting and school performance has been under study for a long time. However, one thing that seems evident is that lack of parenting due to incarceration results in a compound of other factors. These factors include strain and depression among children. The lack of a parent often makes the children susceptible to other behaviors that affect their academic performance. Therefore, there is a relationship between educational achievement in children and incarceration of parents.

Incarceration also affects the economic wellbeing of children.  In most cases, children who have a parent or all of them incarcerated would more often experience limited financial resources to meet their needs (Miller, 2018). In one study it emerged that the income for a family that has been incarcerated reduced to about 22% and 16% for the parents that re-enter the cells (). The situation even becomes more complicated in the cases where the mother is incarcerated, and the father was not available. The situation also becomes more prominent in the situations where the children are left to caregivers that have other commitments or grandparents that do not have a stable income (Miller, 2018). The problem often arises from the reason that these children do not have any forms of earning a profit in addition to them not being able to engage in meaningful labor. There is evidence that shows that the caregivers that are often left to take care of the children often have many other challenges and thus they can meet the economic needs of the incarcerated children.

The other challenge that emerges as a result of the separation of the children is the loss of parent-child attachment and conduct while incarcerated. In the cases where the parent is strong support for the child’s life, the interference of the relationship will eventually lead to the increase of the various factors that have already emerged (Shlafer et al., 2017). However, in some cases, the removal of the parents might be of a relief of the children when the parents are a source of stress for the children. If there is a focus on trying to reestablish the conduct between the children then and the parent, then there should be a close focus on the quality of the relationship. Parents that are close to their children do not only form the social system for the children to grow, but they also play an essential role in the wellbeing of these children. Therefore, the removal of these parents might have a significant impact on a child’s life.

Finally, it is important to mention that the child depends entirely on the parents for growth and development. Therefore, the removal of any of these parents might have a significant impact on the family. In most cases, each parent has a different effect on the family. It is from this view that at times the removal of the mother often has a huge impact that the removal of the father. There is thus a need to take a keen interest in trying to reform the incarcerations system in the country. While it might seem that the focus of the system is to deter crime, it might also be in the process of creating more criminals in the children. While it is essential for people to pay for their offense there is need to look for other approaches to deal with crime than incarcerations.




Bloom, B., & Phillips, S. 2017. In whose best interest? The impact of changing public policy on relatives caring for children with incarcerated parents. In Children with Parents in Prison (pp. 63-74). Routledge.

Knopf, A. 2018. Children of incarcerated citizens: Change system to reduce trauma. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter34(11), 3-4.

Miller, R.R., 2018. Various implications of the “race to incarcerate” on incarcerated African American men and their families. In Impacts of incarceration on the African American family (pp. 3-16). Routledge.

Rojas-Flores, L., Clements, M.L., Hwang Koo, J. and London, J., 2017. Trauma and psychological distress in Latino citizen children following parental detention and deportation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy9(3), p.352.

Rossiter, C., Power, T., Fowler, C., Jackson, D., Hyslop, D., & Dawson, A. 2015. Mothering at a Distance: what incarcerated mothers value about a parenting programme. Contemporary nurse50(2-3), 238-255.

Shlafer, R.J., Loper, A.B. and Schillmoeller, L., 2015. Introduction and literature review: Is parent–child contact during parental incarceration beneficial?. In Children’s contact with incarcerated parents (pp. 1-21). Springer, Cham.