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Publication #FAR0116

Children with Incarcerated Parents1

Colin Callahan and Kate Fogarty2

Figure 1. 
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A sobering number of today’s prisoners are also parents. In fact, the number of incarcerated people with young children rose by 79 percent between 1991 and 2007 (Dallaire and Wilson 2010). More children today are affected by parental imprisonment than by autism spectrum disorder or juvenile diabetes (Dallaire and Wilson 2010).

Now a new study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies (Dallaire and Wilson 2010) shows that children who witness parental criminal activity, arrest, or sentencing are at a greater risk for behavioral problems and maladjustment than children who have parents in prison but who did not witness these things.

Thirty-two incarcerated parents were asked whether their children had observed various “incarceration-related events,” such as their arrest or sentencing or the actual criminal behavior. Children also rated their ability to control their emotions, and their verbal IQ was measured. Finally, the children’s non-incarcerated caregivers completed a survey about the children’s behavioral and emotional adjustment (Dallaire and Wilson 2010).

The authors found that problems such as anxiety, depression, and inattentiveness were more common among children who had witnessed criminal and incarceration-related events. These children also performed worse on verbal tasks and reported having less self-control (Dallaire and Wilson 2010).

The authors suggest that law enforcement can help protect children by performing police raids while children are out, being cautious about searching children for illicit items, and otherwise sheltering them from these procedures. As much as possible, authorities should be sensitive to the developmental needs of these children (Dallaire and Wilson, 2010).

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Dallaire, D. and Wilson, L. (2010). The relation of exposure to parental criminal activity, arrest, and sentencing to children’s maladjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(4), 404–418.



This document is FAR0116, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date April 2011. Reviewed December 2016. Visit the EDIS website at


Colin Callahan, student; and Kate Fogarty, assistant professor; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.