Parental Incarceration in the United States: 2016-2021

Luke Muentner, Rebecca J. Shlafer, Nia Heard-Garris, Dylan B. Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Parental incarceration (PI) is both an adverse childhood experience (ACE) and an influencer of pediatric health. Despite evidence that rural America sees the highest incarceration rates and substantial inequities in pediatric health care access and services, it is unclear how the prevalence of PI and associated sociodemographic factors vary across urban, suburban, and rural regions of the United States. METHODS: This study used data from the National Survey of Children's Health (2016-2021; N = 145 281). Based on proximity and population, households were categorized as urban, suburban, or rural. Caregivers reported on household income, race/ethnicity, and living arrangements as well as children's exposure to ACEs, including PI. Chi-squared and t-tests compared the prevalence of PI across communities and assessed regional differences in ACEs and sociodemographic characteristics in the context of PI. RESULTS: PI was most common in rural (12%) versus urban (8%) and suburban (6%) areas. ACEs were more prevalent among PI children compared with non-PI peers across regions, with slight differences between PI children across locales. Within all regions, PI was highest for Black, Latinx, Native, and multiracial children; those in poverty; and those in nonparent caregiver placements. However, these prevalences were consistently highest among rural children. CONCLUSIONS: This study points to high rates of adversity and concern racial, economic, and residential disparities for PI children, particularly those in rural communities. Evidence from this study can be used as a foundation for future prevention and intervention pediatric health responses that address inequities and unmet needs for rural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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