16th May 2006

A new study by Joseph Murray and David P. Farrington of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology in England explores the long-term adverse impact that the imprisonment of a parent can have on children, assessing later-life outcomes for prisoners’ children compared to children separated from parents for other reasons.

Entitled “Parental Imprisonment : effects on boys’ anti-social behaviour and delinquency through the life-course” , the study uses prospective longitudinal data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquency Development, based on data on 411 Inner London males and their parents. It compares boys separated by parental imprisonment during the first ten years of life with control groups-boys who did not experience separation; boys separated by hospital or death; boys separated for other reaons, eg. divorce; and boys whose parents were imprisoned prior to their birth. Individual, parenting and family risk factors for delinquency were measured when boys were aged 8 to 11. Eleven anti-social and delinquent outcomes were assessed between ages 14 and 40. Separation due to a parent’s imprisonment predicted all antisocial-delinquent outcomes compared to the control conditions and was associated with many other childhood risk factors for delinquency.

One of the rare longitudinal studies investigating long-term effects of parental imprisonment, it concludes that the imprisonment of a parent seems to affect children over and above separation experiences and the concomitant risks, and points to other variables that may be affecting later-life outcomes of prisoners’ children. These include stigma, reduction in family income, and inadequate explanations of the imprisoned parent’s circumstances/not telling the child the truth. The authors conclude that further research on these variables is required to identify the mechanisms by which parental imprisonment affects children. Another new study, also by Joseph Murray, provides a thorough review of literature in English on prisoners’ families. It is entitled “The effects of imprisonment on families and children of prisoners.” Murray, J. (2005). In A. Liebling & S. Maruna (Eds.), The effects of imprisonment (pp. 442-492). Uffculme, Devon : Willan.

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Author: rmchristen