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Effects of Parental Imprisonment on Child Antisocial Behaviour and Mental Health: A Systematic Review

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2009
107 pages
This literature review (16 studies) assessed whether parental imprisonment is a predictor of a child's antisocial behavior and poor mental health; examined evidence related to possible causal effects of parental imprisonment on children's antisocial behavior; and considered whether characteristics of children, parents, prisons, and wider social and penal settings might moderate the effects on children of parental imprisonment.
All 16 studies indicated that children of prisoners are more likely than other children to exhibit antisocial and mental health problems. Children with a parent in prison are at risk for acting out or becoming withdrawn, anxious, or depressed. The studies were unclear, however, regarding whether imprisonment of a parent was a direct cause of a child's problem behavior and poor mental health. The imprisonment of a parent can adversely impact the environment in which a child is raised. Parental imprisonment can create difficulty in providing suitable child care; diminish family income; deprive children of the emotional benefits of bonding with a parent; and cause changes that require children to adjust to a new neighborhood, new school, and new people. Still, there may be disadvantages in children's lives unrelated to parental imprisonment, which may have a more powerful adverse influence on their development. Still, there is little doubt that children of inmates are at risk for problem behaviors and emotional disorders. Additional research is required in order to determine whether the imprisonment of a parent has a direct adverse impact on his/her children's development. The literature review involved a search for studies of children of prisoners guided by contacts with experts in the field, an examination of the bibliographies of prior reviews, and searches of electronic databases of references for the years 1960 to 2008. The searches were international in scope and involved both published and unpublished literature. 131 references, approximately 140 reference listings not included in the review, and appended coding sheets and detailed descriptions of the 16 studies

Date Published: September 1, 2009