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Hidden Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on Dependent Children

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 278 Dated: March 2017
Date Published
March 2017
7 pages
Publication Series
This article summarizes the risk factors facing children of incarcerated parents.

The article's central theme is that children of incarcerated parents face significant and complex threats to their emotional, physical, educational, and financial well-being. Although these children are "hidden" victims of their parents' offenses, they receive little personal support and do not benefit from the systemic societal mechanisms generally available to direct victims of crime. Current estimates of the number of children with incarcerated parents vary. One report estimates that the number of children with incarcerated parents ranges from 1.7 to 2.7 million children. African-American and Hispanic children were 7.5 and 2.3 times more likely, respectively, than White children to have an incarcerated parent; 40 percent of all incarcerated parents were African-American fathers. This paper reviews the risk factors for children of incarcerated parents in the following areas: child criminal involvement, psychological problems and antisocial behavior, educational attainment, and economic well-being. Parent-child attachment and contact while the parent is incarcerated are also reviewed. The research shows that some children develop resilience despite the risks if they have a strong social support system. Through visits, letter-writing, and other forms of contact, an incarcerated parent can have an important positive influence in the child's life. It is critical that correctional practitioners develop strong partnerships with law enforcement, public schools, and child welfare agencies in understanding and addressing the unique dynamics of the family in crisis because of a parent's incarceration. Resources and services must provide a safety net for these children and ensure that the incarcerated parent benefits from effective pre-release and post-release services and resources. 35 notes

Date Published: March 1, 2017