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Project: Research project

Project Details


More than 2.2 million people—disproportionately racial/ethnic minorities—are incarcerated in the U.S. More than half of males and nearly 2/3 of females in prison have children. Racial/ethnic disparities prevail: 1 in 9 African American children and 1 in 28 Hispanic children have a parent in prison compared with 1 in 56 non-Hispanic white children. Incarceration, whether or not it occurs during the child’s lifetime, may disrupt families, alienate loved ones, and limit opportunities for employment, public housing, college admission, public aid, and some occupations, leading to poverty and residential instability. Incarceration during the child’s lifetime may have direct consequences for the child: a new caregiver, moving homes, changing schools, or placement in foster care. Despite the importance of data addressing these health inequities, no comprehensive study has examined the consequences of parents’ incarceration on their children. Prior studies, for example, assessed parents’ incarceration only globally (e.g., “yes/no,”); could not analyze the frequency and duration of incarceration; conflated jail (pretrial and sentences <1 year) and prison (convicted felons, >1 year), and did not examine collateral consequences. We will leverage data already collected in the Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP) to conduct the first comprehensive prospective study of the collateral consequences of parents’ incarcerations on their adolescent children. Begun in the mid-1990s, the NJP is a large-scale longitudinal study of mental health needs and outcomes of youth after detention. Many of our participants (G1), now median age 36, have children of their own, with whom we have maintained contact since 2002. We will study 466 families with children (G2) ages 10 to 17 years, a critical developmental period for problem behaviors. We will (1) use prospective longitudinal data from the NJP (up to 14 clinical interviews with parents and official records); (2) conduct new interviews with parents (n = 466) and an additional caregiver (n = 284) to ascertain collateral consequences of incarcerations and child outcomes; (3) interview the 466 children to ascertain their psychosocial functioning and experiences; and (4) conduct qualitative interviews (n = 48 children) to assess their experiences of their parents’ incarceration. The proposed study has 3 aims: (1) To examine the relationship between parents’ incarceration and their child’s psychosocial outcomes in 4 areas: mental health, substance abuse, antisocial (delinquent) behaviors, and education; (2) To identify how the collateral consequences of incarceration mediate the associations found in Aim 1; and (3) To predict resilience, identifying variables that mitigate consequences of parents’ incarceration on child outcomes; we will focus especially on malleable aspects of social environments. The proposed study responds to (1) Healthy People 2030, which promotes health equity and elimination of health disparities; (2) the Strategic Plan of NIMHD to reduce health disparities; (3) the Strategic Plans of NIDA and NIAAA to address the causes and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse; and, (4) NICHD’s mission for all children to lead healthy, productive lives.
Effective start/end date6/10/196/30/24


  • National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (3R01MD014020-02S1)


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