American Parents & Incarceration

Engage in this excerpt taken from Angelina Grigoryeva and Aaron Gottlieb’s article regarding the impact incarceration has on parents in America as well as the cognitive, physical, and monetary strain that may be caused.


Prevalence and Social Patterning of Adult Child’s Incarceration among American Parents

Although adult child incarceration may have important social implications, it is of social concern on the population level if it is highly common, at least among certain social groups. However, there is no systematic empirical evidence of the risk of adult child incarceration and how it is distributed. Existing studies of the lifetime risk of imprisonment for adults provide some insight into the magnitude and social patterning of the risk of adult child imprisonment. For instance, Pettit and Western (2004) estimate that at the end of the 1990s, about one third of black non-college men had gone to prison by their mid-thirties, e.g., when their parents were still likely to be alive. However, these estimates cannot be translated directly to the risk of adult child imprisonment because the former is influenced not only by adult child’s imprisonment, but also by fertility and mortality processes. Therefore, in this study, we use life-table methods to calculate the risk of experiencing adult child imprisonment and explore how it varies by parent’s race and class (as measured by education).


Adult Child’s Incarceration and Parent’s Mental, Physical, and Economic Well-Being

Previous research on the consequences of incarceration for individual outcomes suggest that adult child’s incarceration may compromise parent’s emotional, physical, and economic wellbeing both in the short and long term (for example, Pager 2003; Wildeman 2010). Research on adult child-parent relationships shows that for aging parents, adult children are an important source of emotional support, physical care, and financial help (Seltzer and Bianchi 2013), all of which stop being available if a child is imprisoned. Moreover, having an adult child arrested, visiting him/her in prison, and dealing with his/her absence might be traumatizing and stressful for parents, and is also likely to be stigmatizing.

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