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Research Summary:

The analyses reported in this article are based on data from a longitudinal epidmiologic study of youth from 11 rural counties in North Carolina—the Great Smoky Mountains Study. Nearly half (47.4%) of the children in the population represented in this study had a parent or other parent figure who had been arrested as an adult. Analyses showed that parent risk factors (i.e., substance abuse, mental illness, and lack of education) had a significant direct effect on children's exposure to family risks. These parent risk factors were also associated with greater odds of parental involvement in the criminal justice system (CJS), which in turn, had a significant association with children's likelihood of experiencing two types of family risks (i.e., economic strain and instability), net the effect of parent risk factors. Parent CJS involvement, however, was not significantly associated with family risks related to family structure or quality of care. Exposure to risks in these latter domains was better explained by the direct effect of parental substance abuse, mental health problems, and lack of education. Policy Implications:

These findings provide empirical evidence that parent CJS involvement is significantly related to children's exposure to certain types of family risks independent of the possible confounding effect of parent risks. The fact that the two domains of family risks that were associated with CJS involvement were economic adversity and family stability is noteworthy as these mirror two of the ecological correlates of crime that are thought to be perpetuated by high levels of incarceration—poverty and population mobility. Second, these findings suggest that it is unrealistic to expect correctional programs that focus on inmates' relationships with their children to single-handedly impact intergenerational incarceration. Programs of this nature may play an important role in offsetting some of the more immediate adverse effects parental incarceration might have on children, but these analyses suggest that they need to be coupled with rehabilitation efforts that target parental substance abuse, mental health problems, and inadequate education. This conclusion is made because although parent CJS involvement carries its own risks for children experiencing certain family risks (i.e., economic strain and instability), these parent problems are still significant predictors of the same as well as other family risks, which in turn, past research has linked to adverse youth outcomes such as substance abuse and delinquency.
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Keywords: Crime; Delinquency; Incarceration; Risk Factors; Social Disorganization; Unintended Consequences

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Associate Research Professor of Biometry in the Developmental Epidemiology Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. 2: Statistician, SAS programmer, and database manager for the Developmental Epidemiology Program at Duke University.

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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