Parental Incarceration and Parent-Youth Closeness

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Objective. The goal of this study is to examine the association between parental incarceration and parent–youth closeness. Background. Despite the established complex repercussions of incarceration for relationships between adults, and the well-known intergenerational consequences of parental incarceration, little is known about how incarceration structures intergenerational relationships between parents and children. Methods. In this article, I use data from the Future of Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3408), a cohort of children followed over a 15-year period, to examine how parental incarceration is associated with relationships between youth and their (incarcerated and non-incarcerated) parents. Results. Results suggest three conclusions. First, parental incarceration is negatively associated with closeness between youth and their incarcerated parents. Second, the timing of first parental incarceration is important. Parental incarceration in early or middle childhood is negatively associated with closeness between youth and their incarcerated parent, and parental incarceration in adolescence is positively associated with closeness between youth and their non-incarcerated parent. Third, relationships between parents themselves explain some of the association between paternal incarceration in early childhood and father–youth closeness. Conclusion. Taken together, these findings advance our understanding of both the relational and intergenerational consequences of criminal legal contact and our understanding of the correlates of parent–youth relationships and, in doing so, highlights how family ecological contexts contribute to inequality.

Turney, Kristin. 2023. “Parental Incarceration and Parent-Youth Closeness.” Journal of Marriage and Family.