Lindsay B. Spiker
Youngstown State University
1 University Plaza
Youngstown, Ohio 44555
Criminal behavior of parents substantially affects the predisposition of delinquent offending in their offspring. Using official data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) 1994-2008, Wave 4 (n-5,114), this study suggests that individuals who have had a mother or father serve time incarcerated in a prison or jail are significantly more likely to commit acts of juvenile delinquency. Based on the results of odds ratios for logistic regression, we also identify disparities related to race, educational attainment, and income in contributing to the likelihood of juvenile offending. In light of these findings, we propose the possibility of maintaining a social priority within the criminal justice system in looking out for the best interest of the children with parents incarcerated. More research is needed to adequately test further variables influencing the relationship between parental incarceration and offspring offending.
BACKGROUND Starting in the 1970s, the United States embarked on a “grand experiment in mass incarceration” that resulted in a fourfold increase in the rate of imprisonment per capita of the population. As a result, there are now over 2 million individuals under correctional supervision in both state and federal prisons, as well as jails. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.5 million minors deal with the effects of parental incarceration every year. In addition, as jail and prison populations continue to increase, the number of children affected by this movement will also continue to increase. Consequently, researchers have begun to assess the overall the effects and implications of parental incarceration on children, along with how incarceration impacts the parent. Therefore, researchers have taken a particular interest in studying the short and long term consequences of parental incarceration on children. Research indicates that children of incarcerated parents are up to ten times more likely to be incarcerated during their lifetime than children of non-incarcerated parents. This statistic further underscores the importance of examining the potential risk factors which may contribute to a significant difference between these populations. Concerns related to the effects of parental incarceration on children are an area of considerable interest to researchers because of the sheer number of children affected. The challenges that children and families with incarcerated parent(s) face are significant. Not only do they face the trauma of loss, but also a range of economic and social challenges that result from a parent lacking in the daily home life for extensive periods of time. The juvenile offspring of parents under some form of the criminal justice system control are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children. Early delinquent behaviors may lead to the establishment of delinquent behavioral patterns in the children of incarcerated offenders. It has been reported that almost half of all incarcerated juveniles have had a parent in the correctional system. Furthermore, specific paternal crimes have been linked with increases in incarceration rates for children, whereas maternal use of drugs regularly is linked to future incarceration rates for children. Though rising correctional facility rates suggest an increase in the number of children who have lost one or both parents to incarceration, very little is known about this highly vulnerable population. United States policymakers, legislators, and children’s advocates know virtually nothing about the approximately 10 million children under the age of 18 whose parent(s) are or have been under some type of criminal justice sanction. Despite the growth of this