This article reviews research on the children of incarcerated parents and draws conclusions about the adequacy of existing research, followed by recommendations on what should be done for these children in the future.
The U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded a team to conduct a systematic review of studies that examined children's antisocial behavior and mental health after parental incarceration. American and international studies, both published and unpublished, conducted from 1960 through 2008 were reviewed. Sixteen studies met the selection criteria for inclusion in the systematic analysis. Based on this review, Murray and Farrington concluded that based on the scientific evidence to date, children of prisoners are twice as likely to be at risk for antisocial behavior and poor mental health outcomes compared to children whose parents have not been incarcerated. It is unclear, however, whether the children's behavioral and mental health issues were related to the imprisonment of the parent. Despite the lack of solid research and evaluation to guide practice and policy, advocates, service providers, and family members of these children have developed a number of programs over the past two decades that target the needs of children whose parents are incarcerated. In the United States, these programs generally provide specialized services - such as prison visitation, tutoring, or mentoring) rater than comprehensive treatment. These programs are almost always under-funded. Correctional administrators must continue to advance in providing services to these children by surmounting organizational barriers to outreach to these children and holding other social systems accountable for failing to address the needs of the children of incarcerated parents. Public education, child welfare, public health, and community mental health systems must work to improve interventions and services for children of incarcerated parents. 12 notes