At the end of last week the New York Times ran an article about how the effects of parental imprisonment have led to a ‘tide of troubled kids.’
The Times reports (with sociological commentary):
The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school — all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood.
“Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the “incarceration generation.”
Work by sociologist Sara Wakefield offers additional insight:
Quantifying other effects of parental incarceration, like aggressive behavior and depression, is more complex because many children of prisoners are already living in deprived and turbulent environments. But researchers using newly available surveys that follow families over time are starting to home in on the impact.
Among 5-year-old urban boys, 49 percent of those who had a father incarcerated within the previous 30 months exhibited physically aggressive behaviors like hitting others or destroying objects, compared with 38 percent of those in otherwise similar circumstances who did not have a father imprisoned, Dr. Wildeman found.
While most attention has been placed on physical aggression, a study by Sara Wakefield, a sociologist following children in Chicago, found that having a parent imprisoned was a mental-health tipping point for some. Thus, while 28 percent of the children in her study over all experienced feelings of social isolation, depression or anxiety at levels that would warrant clinical evaluation or treatment, about 35 percent of those who had an incarcerated parent did.
And additional sociological commentary…
With financial woes now forcing many states to rethink the relentless expansion of prisons, “this intergenerational transfer of problems should be included as an additional cost of incarceration to society,” said Sarah S. McLanahan, a sociologist at Princeton University and director of a national survey of families that is providing data for many of the new studies.