Children with Incarcerated Parents

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Juvenile Justice
And
The effects on
Children of Incarcerated Parents

Loretta R. Lynch
Capstone 480
Ms. Mel Jones

Abstract

Today prisons are overcrowded and over two million Americans, male, and female are sitting in jail or prison, and two thirds of those people incarcerated are parents (U.S. Department of Justice). Approximately two million of these children are separated from their mom or dad because of incarceration of which these are the custodial parent. These children suffer from poverty, inconsistency in caregivers, separation from siblings, reduced education, increased risk for substance abuse, alcoholism and incarceration themselves.

Studies have shown that children who lack parental relationships that combine loving support with structured discipline will show increased signs of antisocial behavior (Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(4). This behavior is exhibited in children with incarcerated parents because bonds are likely to have never formed or are broken upon imprisonment. The attachment a child has to their parent, as well as the indirect controls a parent has over the child, forms protective factors that reduce the incidence of delinquency (Abidin, R. 1983).

Children of incarcerated parents are not always afforded protective factors, and are exposed to higher levels of risk factors that can contribute to delinquent behavior. Parental incarceration increases a child’s chance of experiencing disruptions, ineffective parenting, and loss of parental contact and academic difficulties, which can lead to juvenile delinquency.

In the last three decades, family life in the United States has changed dramatically. Currently over eight point five million families with children under eighteen years of age are maintained by single parents, eighty percent of which are single as a result of separation or divorce (Hamner & Turner, 1990). A significant contributing factor to single parent households is the estimated eight percent of the children in the United States who have one parent who is incarcerated (Butterworth, 1987). In my interview with one family court judge at the Chesterfield County Juvenile Justice Court (Brice, 2012), it was apparent to me that these children are more likely than their peers to become incarcerated as adults (. The parent-child relationship, which is extremely important in a child’s development when broken, can have strong implications on the behavior that has exhibited from the child. It was also apparent that according to statistics nationwide, more than 2 million children have a parent who is incarcerated in state or federal prison (U.S. Department of Justice Report 2009). Loosing a parent to incarceration can have a wide range of devastating effects on prisoner’s children.

In an interview with a female inmate (Inmate X, 2012), a mother of three children, it was apparent that the lack of parental bonding had affected not only the relationship with her mother who was seventy-one and in bad health, but also with her children. On top of her worry of being incarcerated, the inmate had just learned that her oldest was beginning to show signs of acting out and smoking marijuana. She spoke to me about her children ranging from ages two, seven and twelve. This female inmate discusses how much she missed and loved them her children, but due to circumstances, she would not be able to be in their lives for five years. She stated that it was her decision for her mother not to bring the children to the facility for any visits for fear of the impact it might cause on them seeing her in a place behind bars. When I asked her what made her in up in prison, she stated drugs. As a child, she was raped by her step-grandfather and she had turned to drugs to cope.

In another interview with a female inmate (Inmate Y, 2012), she shared how she was raised in a single parent household. Her father was in and out jail for...
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