Kids' health suffers when parents go to jail

September 3, 2014 by Laura Rico

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2 million people currently behind bars. How this affects their families is the subject of a new UC Irvine study, which found significant health and behavioral problems in children of incarcerated parents. The most striking finding is that in some cases parental incarceration can be more detrimental to a child's well-being than divorce or the death of a parent.

"We know that poor people and are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest of the population, and incarceration further hinders the and development of who are already experiencing significant challenges," said study author Kristin Turney, assistant professor of sociology at UC Irvine.

When comparing children with similar demographic, socioeconomic and familial characteristics, the study found that having a parent in jail was linked to a greater incidence of asthma, obesity, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety.

"Our results suggest that children's health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration," Turney said. "Incarceration, given its unequal distribution across the population, may have implications for racial and social class inequalities in children's health."

The study appears in the September edition of the Journal of Health & Social Behavior, a publication of the American Sociological Association.

About 2.6 million U.S. children have a parent in jail or prison at any given time, Turney said. "Sesame Street" recently introduced a Muppet named Alex, whose dad is in jail, as a way to address the stigma. The chance of having an incarcerated parent is especially high in certain groups.

"Among black children with fathers without a high school diploma, about 50 percent will experience parental incarceration by age 14, compared with 7 percent of white children with similarly educated fathers," Turney said.

Parental incarceration is significantly related to learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, developmental delays, and speech or language problems, she said. Compared to divorce, parental incarceration is more strongly associated with both ADD/ADHD and ; compared to the death of a parent, it's more strongly associated with ADD/ADHD.

Turney used data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health, a population-based and representative sample of 0- to 17-year-olds.

Explore further: Parental incarceration can be worse for a child than divorce or death of a parent

Related Stories

Incarceration has no effect on nonresident fathers' parenting

December 11, 2013

A prison sentence may not always have negative consequences for children of the incarcerated, says University of California, Irvine sociologist Kristin Turney. In a new study, she finds that when an uninvolved dad spends ...

Study finds ADHD and trauma often go hand in hand

May 6, 2014

When children struggle with focusing on tasks, staying organized, controlling their behavior and sitting still, they may be evaluated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Clinicians, however, shouldn't stop ...

Jailed family member increases risks for kids' adult health

August 1, 2014

New research shows that people who grew up in a household where a member was incarcerated have a 18-percent greater risk of experiencing poor health quality than adults who did not have a family member sent to prison. The ...

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.