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Children of imprisoned parents have health problems

By Jeffrey Day on July 17, 2015 in

Children whose parents are in prison have worse health, poorer school performance and are at a greater risk for depression, anxiety, asthma and HIV/AIDS, according to a policy brief released by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis.

In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million children, and one in nine African-American children, had an imprisoned parent.

“Targeted use of shorter or out-of-custody sentences would reduce the strain families experience while minimizing negative effects on public safety,” said Bill McCarthy, a professor of sociology, who wrote the brief with doctoral candidate in sociology Angela Carter.

A parent’s imprisonment increases material hardship for families who are already likely to be poor, and it also has long-lasting effects on their children, according to the brief. In 2004, about half of inmates with children reported providing primary financial support before they were incarcerated. About 30 percent of these parents reported monthly incomes of $1,000 or less, and 63 percent reported monthly incomes of below $2,000.

Imprisonment itself increases the likelihood that families and children will experience material hardship, the report said. Families lose income and other resources that new inmates had contributed. Imprisonment also introduces new expenses for families to support the imprisoned parent.

The report concludes that employment assistance for parents upon release from prison, as well as less restrictive visitation rules, could reduce the economic and emotional effects imprisonment has on families.

About the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research

The Center for Poverty Research is one of three federally designated centers whose mission is to facilitate and disseminate nonpartisan academic research on poverty in the U.S. and to train the next generation of poverty scholars. Its research agenda focuses on labor markets and poverty, children and intergenerational transmission of poverty, the nontraditional safety net, and immigration. 

Media contact(s)

Jeffrey Day, Arts, humanities and social sciences, 530-219-8258,

Bill McCarthy, Sociology/Center for Poverty Research,

Angela Carter, Sociology/Center for Poverty Research,

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