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Review of Research on Children with Incarcerated Parents, Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative, 2015

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Seven Out of Ten?
Not Even Close.

C E N T R A L

C O N N E C T I C U T

S T A T E

U N I V E R S I T Y

A Review of Research on the Likelihood
of Children with Incarcerated Parents
Becoming Justice-Involved

Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Authors:
James M. Conway, Ph.D.
Edward T. Jones
Department of Psychological Science, Central Connecticut State University

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Collaborators..............................................................................................................................4
Seven Out of Ten? Not Even Close............................................................................................5
Method........................................................................................................................................8
Results.......................................................................................................................................10
Discussion..................................................................................................................................14
Conclusion..................................................................................................................................16
References.................................................................................................................................17

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

SEVEN OUT OF TEN? NOT EVEN CLOSE.
A REVIEW OF RESEARCH ON THE LIKELIHOOD OF CHILDREN WITH
INCARCERATED PARENTS BECOMING JUSTICE-INVOLVED

Collaborators
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated

The mission of the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the
Incarcerated at Rutgers Camden is to raise awareness about the needs and
concerns of the children of the incarcerated and their families by:
•Disseminating accurate and relevant information and research
•Guide the development of family strengthening policy and practice
•Train, prepare, and inspire those working in the
and
•Include the families in defining the issues and designing solutions

Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy
Children with Incarcerated Parents (CIP) Initiative

Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy (IMRP)

The mission for the CIP Initiative is to improve the
quality of supports for children with incarcerated
parents by using the various data and knowledge it
gains to inform public policy and practice.

The IMRP is a non-partisan, University-based
organization dedicated to enriching the quality
of local, state and national public policy. The
IMRP tackles critical and often under addressed
issues with the intent of ensuring the most positive
outcomes for affected individuals and entities.
In doing so, the IMRP bridges the divide between
academia, policymakers, practitioners and the
community.

CIP Initiative’s Guiding Principles:
I. Practices should be designed specifically with CIP
needs in mind
II. Include CIP and their families in the process of
program development, implementation, and evaluation
III. The relationship between the child and the incarcerated parent should be supported
IV. Programs should reach children and families to get
“self-referrals”
V. Stigma and isolation associated with incarceration
should be reduced
VI. Emphasis on connections, collaborations and
coordination among agencies and community partners
VII. Evaluation and accurate data are critical for identifying evidence-supported practices

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March, 2015

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Seven Out of Ten – Not Even Close

SEVEN OUT OF TEN? NOT EVEN CLOSE.
A REVIEW OF RESEARCH ON THE LIKELIHOOD OF CHILDREN WITH
INCARCERATED PARENTS BECOMING JUSTICE-INVOLVED
It has been widely claimed without documentary evidence that children with incarcerated parents (CIP)
are six times more likely than other children to become justice-involved, and that seven out of ten CIP
will become justice-involved. These undocumented claims are important because (a) they have been
used to justify public policy and (b) they are potentially stigmatizing to CIP. We reviewed six sources
using representative sampling methods in a variety of countries and providing eight estimates of the
likelihod of CIP justice involvement. Our first conclusion was that no estimate from any country even
approached the “seven out of ten” claim, and the mean across estimates was slightly more than three
out of ten (32.8%). Our second conclusion was that CIP were more likely than non-CIP to become
justice-involved, but not nearly six times as likely – on average CIP were about three times as likely
as non-CIP to become justice-involved. Third, of the three studies employing control variables, in only
one of them were the results consistent with the idea that parental incarceration may be the cause of
elevated justice-involvement in CIP. Because the “six times more likely” and “seven out of ten” claims
are unsupported by the data and potentially stigmatizing, these claims must be abandoned.
There has been a worldwide increase in prison populations in recent years (Walmsley, 2011),
and a corresponding increase in the number of children with a parent in prison (Dawson, Jackson, &
Nyamathi, 2012). For example, in 2010 there were over 1.5 million U.S. adults in prison and almost
750,000 in jail (Glaze, 2011), far more than in 1980. Another example is the substantial increase
in the Australian prison population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). It is therefore critical for
service providers and policy makers to understand the potential effects of parental incarceration on
children.
Unsubstantiated Claims About the Likelihood of CIP Justice-Involvement
Much of the public policy attention regarding children with incarcerated parents (CIP) has
focused on an issue that is important but also potentially stigmatizing – the possibility that CIP will
themselves become incarcerated (“intergenerational incarceration;” Flynn, 2013; Johnston, 2012;
Siegel, 2011). Within the last decade the U.S. federal government has provided substantial funding
for mentoring programs targeting CIP to reduce their risk of justice-involvement (Social Security
Agency, 2011). It has been reported that the British Policing Minister proposed an even more direct
intervention - that England track and target CIP to prevent criminal behavior (Woolf, 2004).
The rallying cry to address outcomes of CIP includes two related and frequently cited, but
potentially problematic, figures that CIP are six times more likely than other children to eventually
become incarcerated themselves (Siegel, 2011), and that seven out of ten CIP will someday become
incarcerated (or 65%, in the case of England’s proposal to track CIP; Woolf, 2004). These claims
are dramatic and capture one’s attention. They are also common on the internet, for example on
websites of mentoring organizations intending to build support for resources to serve CIP.
The figures are problematic because it is not at all clear that they are accurate.
Address correspondence to James M. Conway, Department of Psychological Science, Central
Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley Street, New Britain, CT 06050, USA. Phone: +1-860-8323107; E-Mail: conwayj@ccsu.edu.
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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Siegel (2011) dubbed the first of these claims the “’six times more likely’ phenomenon” (p. 6)
and noted that exhaustive searches have not found scholarly sources documenting that level of risk.
If any citation is given on websites for either figure, it is often to U.S. Senate Report 106-404 (2000)
which stated:
Statistics show that children of prisoners are six times more likely than other children to be
incarcerated at some point in their lives. The Department of Justice has ignored the fact that 70
percent of children of prisoners will become involved with the nation’s prison system (p. 56).
The senate report provided no supporting evidence or citation for these figures, yet has itself
been cited as an authoritative source. Two other government reports have made the “six times more
likely” claim: Moses’ (1995) report for the U.S. National Institute of Justice and a report by the Florida
House of Representatives (1998). Both reports cited Barnhill and Dressel (1991) as their source
(which, as Flynn, 2013 noted, is also cited as Dressel & Barnhill, 1992), but Barnhill and Dressel did
not actually study the justice-involvement rates of CIP (Flynn, 2013). Therefore, there is no basis in
evidence for the dramatic
cited to draw attention to CIP.
There are, however, several longitudinal studies with representative samples from a variety of
countries that can be used to assess the likelihood of CIP justice-involvement. The purpose of the
present review was to evaluate the “six times more likely” and “seven out of ten” claims by reviewing
existing evidence. If the claims are incorrect and overstate the risk of intergenerational incarceration,
it is important that they stop being used. In addition to being potentially misleading, the claims may
also be stigmatizing to CIP.
Stigma and the Effect of Claims About CIP
There is a substantial stigma associated with having an incarcerated parent (Dawson, Brookes,
Carter, Larman, & Jackson, 2013; Phillips & Gates, 2011). We argue that the stigma derives in part
from a belief that CIP are likely to become justice-involved, and that the “six times more likely” and
“seven out of ten” claims about CIP exacerbate the stigma. Phillips and Gates (2011) provided a
theoretical description of how stigma could attach to CIP, stating that:
Stigmatization has been described as a process consisting of five key elements... Those elements are: (1) distinguishing and labeling differences, (2) associating labeled differences with negative
attributes, (3) differentiating between ‘‘us’’ and ‘‘them’’ based on labeled differences, and (4) the
devaluation and discriminatory treatment of labeled individuals, all of which (5) occur within the
context of and serve to perpetuate differences in social, cultural, political, and economic power. (p.
286)
Research illustrates several of these elements in the lives of CIP. For example, two recent
qualitative studies showed that CIP do feel a stigma from their peers (Allard & Greene, 2001; Nesmith
& Ruhland, 2008). The CIP interviewed made it clear that they did not want peers to know about their
incarcerated parent, believing that negative assumptions would be made about them. Dallaire,
Ciccone, and Wilson (2010) interviewed teachers about children with an incarcerated mother,
finding that the teachers believed that some of their colleagues stigmatized these children, were
unsupportive, and expected little from the children. In a follow-up study teachers evaluated scenarios
about a hypothetical child’s mother; results showed that children with a mother away at prison
were rated as less competent than children with a mother in rehab, away at school, or just “away.”
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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Rodriguez, Smith, and Zatz (2009) provided indirect evidence that stigma may affect decisions made
about CIP in the justice system. Records of juvenile court cases allowed a comparison of CIP with
other children, and Rodriguez et al. found that children with an incarcerated father were more likely
to receive an out-of-home placement than were other children, even when other variables such as
family dysfunction and the child’s prior referrals to juvenile court were taken into account.
These studies indicate that stigmatization of CIP occurs, i.e., that CIP are labeled, associated
with negative attributes, and devalued. Another important issue is understanding exactly what
negative attributes are ascribed to CIP. Qualitative research suggests a belief that CIP will themselves
become criminals. According to Braman (2004), one family member of an incarcerated person
described others’ perceptions this way: “basically…that if there’s one criminal, there’s another, and
another…a consistency within every family” (p. 174). We believe the assumption of intergenerational
incarceration is a major factor in stigmatization of CIP. (It is worth noting that the family member
quoted by Braman, 2004, believed that the assumption of consistency within families was a
misconception.)
If there is a tendency to assume that CIP are likely to become incarcerated, it is important that
researchers and those working with CIP do not inadvertently promote an inaccurate belief. According
to Adalist-Estrin (2009) this is exactly what the “seven out of ten” claim has done. While the “seven
out of ten” and “six times more likely” claims have been intended to draw attention to the plight of
CIP and to advocate for resources and services, they may in fact be promoting stigmatization. The
fact that the claims are made publicly without documentary evidence is disturbing; there is a need to
provide accurate information and that requires a review of existing evidence.
Purpose of the Present Review and Research Questions
Our purpose was to examine studies from a variety of countries providing systematic evidence
on the likelihood of CIP becoming justice-involved. We had three research questions:
(1) What is the likelihood (i.e., the percentage) of CIP becoming justice-involved?
(2) How much higher (if at all) is the likelihood of CIP vs. other children becoming justiceinvolved?
(3) If there is a difference in the likelihood of justice-involvement for CIP vs. other children, does
evidence suggest that the parental incarceration is potentially the cause of the difference? In
answering this question we considered whether controlling for other factors that may correlate
with parental incarceration, such as socio-economic status, could explain the difference in
justice-involvement.

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Method
Literature Search
We used a number of methods to identify studies on the likelihood of CIP becoming justiceinvolved. First we searched a suite of 40 EBSCOhost databases (e.g., Criminal Justice Abstracts;
PsycINFO) using a variety of keywords in various combinations, including “incarcerated parent,”
“child*,” “outcomes,” “effects,” and “delinquency.” Second, once we identified articles through the
keyword search we examined their literature reviews to find additional relevant articles. Third, we
examined articles cited in narrative reviews on CIP by Murray and Farrington (2008) and Murray and
Murray (2010); and articles cited in Wildeman’s (2014) annotated bibliography. Most importantly, we
drew from Murray, Farrington, and Sekol’s (2012) meta-analysis of studies comparing CIP with nonCIP groups on a variety of outcome measures. Specifically, we examined studies described in Murray
et al.’s (2012) appendix as having justice involvement as an outcome measure.
Inclusion Criteria
Criteria for inclusion in our review were that a study (a) included a sample of children who
had a parent incarcerated during the child’s lifetime (we excluded studies in which incarceration
occurred before the child was born, or which were unclear about the timing of parental incarceration),
(b) examined the likelihood (i.e., the percentage) of the children becoming justice-involved (arrest,
conviction, or incarceration), and (c) used a representative sampling strategy (e.g., including
all children born in a particular city during a particular time period). We excluded, as being nonrepresentative of the general population, studies which specifically sampled children targeted as in
need of services or at risk for justice involvement for reasons other than parental incarceration. While
including a comparison group was not a requirement, all studies we located did include one.
Having a parent who was arrested or convicted of an offense, but not necessarily incarcerated,
was not sufficient to be included in our review. It is arguable that being present for a parent’s arrest
is traumatic for a child. But our goal was to address the issue of parental incarceration. Further,
some studies explicitly controlled for the effects of parental conviction when assessing the effect of
parental incarceration (e.g., Besemer et al., 2011) which emphasizes the distinction between parental
conviction vs. incarceration.
We excluded otherwise appropriate studies (e.g., Murray, Janson, & Farrington’s 2007 English
sample) because of overlap with Besemer et al.’s (2011) sample which we included. Two studies
(Besemer et al., 2011; van de Rakt, 2010) did not publish exactly the type of data we needed (e.g.,
Besemer et al., 2011, provided the “conviction rate,” or mean number of convictions, for CIP and
non-CIP, rather than percentages). We were able to include the two studies because the first authors
provided us with the necessary percentages.
Description of Sources Included
The search yielded six sources for inclusion, described in Table 1 and included in the reference
list, which provided eight estimates of the likelihood of CIP justice involvement. Table 1 provides a
summary of each source and estimate, including the sampling method and ages over which children
were tracked, sizes and descriptions of CIP and non-CIP samples, ages of CIP during parents’
incarceration, measure of parent incarceration, the measure of youth justice-involvement (i.e., arrest,
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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

conviction, or incarceration), and the percentages of CIP and non-CIP samples who became justiceinvolved.
The studies were conducted in a variety of countries including the United States (e.g., Huebner
& Gustafson, 2007), England (Besemer et al., 2011), the Netherlands (van de Rakt, 2010), New
Zealand (Gordon, 2009), and Sweden (Murray et al., 2007). Sampling methods were all intended
to provide representative samples (e.g., probability sample; all births in a particular area during a
particular time frame).
Five of the six studies were longitudinal, tracking the sample for periods of time up to 40 years
(Besemer et al., 2011). Trice and Brewster (2004) used a retrospective design, surveying incarcerated
mothers about their children’s arrests over the previous year. The studies’ starting points were as
early as 1953 (Murray et al., 2007).
Measures of youth justice-involvement included arrest (Trice & Brewster, 2004), conviction
(e.g., Huebner & Gustafson, 2007), or incarceration (e.g., Gordon, 2009). If a study provided multiple
measures of justice-involvement (e.g., Gordon, 2009), we included only the most serious measure.
Note that two estimates from Murray et al. (2007) were for overlapping samples and thus were not
independent. Data collection methods included police or court records (e.g., van de Rakt, 2010) and
self-reports (e.g., Huebner & Gustafson, 2007).

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Results
Likelihood of CIP Becoming Justice-Involved
Our research question regarded the likelihood of CIP becoming justice-involved. Percentages
are summarized in the second-to-last column in Table 1. It is clear that not one of the estimates even
approached 70 percent (the “7 out of 10” claim). The highest was 43.1 from Besemer et al. (2011). All
other estimates were below 35 percent. To summarize the estimates we calculated the mean of
the percentages, weighted by the sample size (weighting puts more emphasis on more accurate
estimates from larger samples). Note: For Murray et al. (2007) we first combined the two estimates
from the exact same sample (CIP with a parent incarcerated during age 0-6; the estimates are shown
separately in Table 1). The weighted mean of the eight estimates in Table 1 was 32.8 (SD = 5.7; the
95% CI ranged from 27.5 to 38.2). Our best estimate is therefore that slightly more than three out of
ten CIP may become justice-involved, much lower than the common “seven out of ten” claim.
Comparing CIP and Non-CIP on the Likelihood of Becoming Justice-Involved
Our second research question regarded how much higher the likelihood was of CIP vs. nonCIP becoming justice-involved. Table 1 shows that each study found a lower rate of justice-involvement
for non-CIP than for CIP, with most of the non-CIP percentages ranging from the high single digits to
the low 20’s; the exception was Besemer et al. (2011), whose non-CIP group had a likelihood of 32.9
percent. In six of the eight cases the authors tested for a statistically significant difference between
CIP and non-CIP groups, and for each of the tests CIPs’ justice-involvement was significantly higher
(p < .05).
To address the “six times more likely” claim about CIP we calculated the ratio of the weighted
mean percentages of justice-involvement for CIP (weighted mean = 32.8 as noted earlier when
addressing our first research question) and non-CIP. For non-CIP we calculated the mean, with cases
weighted by sample sizes, and found a value of 10.6 (SD = 2.5; 95% CI ranging from 8.0 to 13.2).
The ratio of the two mean values is 32.8/10.6 = 3.1. We take this value as our best estimate, and it
indicates that CIP are about three times as likely to become justice-involved as non-CIP. Our estimate
does not even approach the “six times more likely” claim, though it does indicate an elevated level of
justice-involvement for CIP.

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Birth cohort in
Christchurch,
New Zealand
in mid-1977;
Tracked to age
25

33 children
with parent
incarcerated
prior to child’s
age 15

Murray (2007);
Sweden

Project
Metropolitan;
all children
born in 1953 in
Stockholm, still
living there in
1963; Tracked
until 1972

137 youths ages
0-6

31 youths with
Huebner (2007); National
an incarcerated
Longitudinal
United States
Survey of Youth mother
- Probability
sample, females
ages 14-21 in
1979 tracked until
2000

Gordon (2009);
New Zealand

14,757

1,666 youths
without an
incarcerated
mother

935 children
without history
of parental
incarceration
prior to age 15

185 children,
126 boys
and 59 girls,
with a parent
convicted of
a crime/not
imprisoned

Sampling and N and Description N and
Description of
Tracking (Ages) of of CIP Group
Non-CIP Group
Sample

Besemer (2011); All boys ages 8-9 143 children, 92
boys and 51 girls
at 6 schools in
England
South London,
England, and
their siblings in
1961-63; Tracked
until age 40

(Year) and
Country

First Author

Birth to age 19

Not clear
but occurred
between 1980
and 2000

Prior to age 15

Birth to age 19

Age of CIP
During Parent’s
Incarceration
43.1

15.6

26.0

18.2
(offense up
to age 19)

Conviction
between
ages 19 and
40 (based on
police records)

Incarcerated
up to age 25
(based on court
records)

Conviction
and probation
between ages
18-24 (based
on child selfreports)

Criminal
conviction (a)
up to age 19
and (b) age 1930 (based on
police records)

Imprisoned
at least once
(based on
police records)

Parent
incarcerated
prior to child
being age 15
(based on
parent selfreports)
Maternal
incarceration
(based on
parent selfreports)

Mother
or father
incarcerated
(based on
police records)

7.2 (offense
up to age
19)*

10.0*b

1.6*

32.9*a

% of NonCIP Justice
Involved

12.2
24.8
(offense age
(offense
19-30)*
age 19-30)

% of CIP
Justice
Involved

Measure of
Youth JusticeInvolvement

Incarceration

Measure
of Parent

Descriptions of Studies Providing Estimates of the Likelihood of CIP Justice-Involvement

Table 1

Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

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Birth to age 18

482 children
from neverconvicted
fathers

34

34.9%

Arrest within the
last year (based
on mother’s selfreport)

Criminal
conviction by
age 18-30 (age
of youths at
end of tracking
varied) (based
on government
records)

Mother
currently
incarcerated
(women in
prison were
the research
participants)
Incarceration
(based on
government
records)

26.0

% of CIP
Justice
Involved

Criminal
conviction ages
19-30

Measure of
Youth JusticeInvolvement

Same as
above

Incarceration

Measure
of Parent

9.9% for
children
of neverconvicted
fathers d

22.9% for
children of
convicted
fathers d

15*d

12.0*c

% of NonCIP Justice
Involved

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characteristics (e.g., education), and “correlates of criminal behavior” (p. 290) (e.g., parental supervision; peer pressure).
c Difference between CIP and non-CIP samples became nonsignificant when parent criminality was controlled for.
d No significance test was reported comparing CIP and non-CIP samples.

for boys with an incarcerated father, girls with an incarcerated father, etc.; we collapsed estimates across subgroups); all tests showed a
significant difference between the CIP and non-CIP samples.
b Difference was still significant after controlling for a variety of child characteristics (e.g., delinquency; absence of mother), maternal

*Authors reported a statistically significant (p < .05) difference between CIP and non-CIP samples.
a Besemer et al. actually conducted significance tests for subsamples by CIP gender and incarcerated parent gender (e.g., separate tests

Criminal Careers 1,151 children
and Life Course of incarcerated
fathers
Study provided
a “representative
sample of men
tried in the
Netherland’s in
1977” (p. 35; men
only)

van de Rakt
(2010); The
Netherlands

Between ages
of 13-20 at
the time of the
study

4,830 children
of convicted/not
incarcerated
fathers;

47 children
of currently
incarcerated
mothers

Women in a
Virginia prison
surveyed
retrospectively
about children’s
arrests in the
previous year

Trice (2004);
United States

Same as above

14,516
41 Best
friends of the
children with
incarcerated
mothers

Age of CIP
During Parent’s
Incarceration

208 youths ages
7-19

Sampling and N and Description N and
Description of
Tracking (Ages) of of CIP Group
Non-CIP Group
Sample

Same as above
Murray (2007);
Sweden (Note:
overlaps with the
0-6 age group
above)

(Year) and
Country

First Author

Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Parental Incarceration as a Potential Cause of CIP Justice-Involvement
Our third question was whether, given the fairly consistent (though smaller than frequently
claimed) difference in justice-involvement between CIP and non-CIP, parental incarceration might be
the cause. We cannot be certain about cause-and-effect given the correlational nature of the research
reviewed here, but a reasonable analysis is to control for other factors that may affect youth justiceinvolvement (e.g., parental convictions rather than incarceration; Murray et al., 2007). If parental
incarceration is a cause of youth justice-involvement, then it should still be a significant predictor even
when controlling for other factors. On the other hand, if controlling for other factors renders parental
incarceration non-significant, this would suggest that parental incarceration is not a cause of youth
justice-involvement. Note that this approach assumes measurement of the important control factors.
In reality a limited number of variables have been assessed, such as parent criminality and socioeconomic status. Later we discuss other arguably important factors at the community level such as
over-policing. Because of the failure in prior research to control for community-level factors, findings
in this section could be considered very tentative.
Only three of the studies we reviewed used control variables. First, Huebner and Gustafson
(2007) controlled for a variety of child characteristics (e.g., delinquency; absence of mother), maternal
characteristics (e.g., education), and “correlates of criminal behavior” (p. 290) such as parental
supervision and peer pressure. The difference in justice-involvement was still significant when
controlling for these factors, which means it is possible that parental incarceration was a cause of
increased risk. Second, Murray et al. (2007) controlled for parent criminality (having a parent who had
committed a crime, regardless of whether the parent was incarcerated); controlling for parent
criminality rendered the difference between CIP and non-CIP samples nonsignificant. This finding is
consistent with the idea that parental incarceration was not a cause of increased risk for justiceinvolvement.
The third study using control variables was by Besemer et al. (2001) who controlled for parental
violence and parental convictions, and in a separate analysis controlled for eight “risk factors”
child was born. Controlling
including family income and whether the mother was a teen when the
only for parental conviction rendered the CIP-non CIP difference nonsignificant. In a separate
analysis, controlling for the eight risk factors also made the difference nonsignificant. Note that a
variation on this analysis, using number of parental imprisonments (rather than simply distinguishing
between children whose parent had vs. had not been incarcerated) as the predictor of youth
justice-involvement, found that controlling for the various risk factors left the relationship
(consistent with the idea that parental incarceration may be a cause of youth justice-involvement).
Besemer et al.’s results are therefore ambiguous about causation. Taking all three studies into
account, evidence is mixed with about half the evidence suggesting no cause-effect relationship and
the other half of the evidence suggesting that cause-and-effect is plausible. However, as we noted
earlier, a fully adequate test would require consideration of other control variables including those at
the community level as well as the individual child level.

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Seven out of Ten – Not Even Close

Discussion
Our review of six sources (providing eight estimates) assessing the likelihood of justiceinvolvement for CIP in multiple countries provided several findings based on the best available
evidence. First, there was no support in any country for the claim that seven out of ten CIP will become
justice-involved; our best estimate is that the figure is slightly above three out of ten. Second, there
was no support for the related claim that CIP are six times more likely than non-CIP to become justiceinvolved; in the studies we reviewed, the likelihood was higher for CIP than non-CIP but the ratio was
about three to one. Third, the evidence was mixed on whether parental incarceration is a plausible
cause of increased risk of justice-involvement; in some studies, controlling for other factors erased
the difference between CIP and non-CIP.
The present study contributes to the existing literature as the only attempt to provide a
quantitative review of the likelihood of CIP justice-involvement. The questionable nature of claims
made about CIP has been noted in previous work (e.g., Flynn 2013; Siegel, 2011) but there has
not until now been a comprehensive attempt to review the existing evidence. Past reviews have
documented elevated rates of psychopathology (Murray & Murray, 2010) and antisocial behavior
(Murray et al., 2012), and our review adds to that literature by quantifying the likelihood of justiceinvolvement. A related contribution is the evidence undercutting commonly made claims about CIP.
suggest that while CIP may have a somewhat higher likelihood than non-CIP, a large
Our
majority of CIP do not become justice-involved – a conclusion that flies in the face of the commonly
made “seven out of ten” claim.
Implications
The most obvious implication of our findings is that the “seven out of ten” and “six times more
likely” claims should not be used, even in efforts to secure funding for services to CIP. The use of
unfounded claims may have the unintentional effect of further stigmatizing an already stigmatized
group (Adalist-Estrin, 2009).
A related implication is that accurate information about CIP should be disseminated as a way
to potentially reduce stigma and advocate for resources. Adalist-Estrin (2009) argued for a public
awareness campaign regarding CIP – but also noted the challenge of increasing support for CIP
without using harmful messages (e.g., demonizing the incarcerated parents).
A different way to argue for the urgency of attention to CIP is to focus on emerging research
indicating other potential negative outcomes. One outcome involves mental health - two recent
studies provided evidence that witnessing a parent’s arrest is associated with trauma symptoms
(Phillips & Zhao, 2010; Roberts et al., 2013). Having a multiple-justice-involved mother has been
shown to be associated with higher internalizing and externalizing behaviors (though the association
held for non-black, but not black children; Miller & Bank, 2013). Another outcome is physical health
- Lee, Fang, and Luo’s (2013) study showed increased levels of health problems among CIP such
as asthma and migraines. These outcomes are problematic both in terms of suffering for CIP and
financial costs of treatment, and justify a sustained attention to CIP by policy makers and researchers.
These
could be included in a public information campaign, and if successful, the “devaluing
and discrimination” discussed by Phillips and Gates (2010) could be reduced.

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A third implication involves training for service providers and other professionals who come
into contact with CIP. According to Adalist-Estrin (2009), services to CIP may be provided by those
inadequately trained – e.g., with a belief in the “six times more likely” claim. Service providers may
unintentionally convey their negative expectations to CIP, increasing feelings of stigmatization.
Phillips and Gates (2010) noted the possibility that CIP might even internalize the negative attitudes
about themselves. We therefore believe it is important for all those who provide services to CIP be
educated about the likelihood of their justice-involvement as well as other outcomes. Providers could
then be more sensitive to the needs and issues specific to CIP, and couldavoid conveying negative
expectations or judgments of the child’s family. We also believe that other professionals such as
teachers and those working in the justice system should be educated to be aware of how parental
incarceration affects children. Vacca (2008) provided several ideas for how schools can support
CIP, such as helping staff understand CIPs’ needs, working to change other children’s attitudes, and
establishing partnerships with agencies that serve CIP.
Limitations and Future Research
One limitation of the present review is that the findings are ambiguous with regard to cause and
effect. The correlational nature of the research we reviewed means we cannot know for sure what
caused the somewhat increased likelihood of justice-involvement for CIP. Results from some (though
not all) studies controlling for other factors suggested that the cause may not be parental incarceration
itself. An important topic for future research is to examine potential causes. Other potential causes may
be things correlated with parental incarceration. For example, CIP may tend to live in neighborhoods
that are heavily policed, and the heavy police presence may account for the elevated level of justice
involvement. In other words, it may not be that CIP are more likely to commit crimes, but rather that they
are more likely than other youths to be arrested, convicted, and/or incarcerated for crimes.
A second limitation is that the data examined here come from a variety of nations with different
criminal justice policies, and these differences surely affect the estimates of the likelihood of justiceinvolvement.
A third limitation is the relatively small number of studies, some with small samples. There is a
need for additional research on this topic with large samples.
A related issue for future research is to understand exactly what CIP’s needs are, and what
types of interventions may best meet their needs. Murray and Murray (2010) reviewed evidence that
CIP may tend to have elevated levels of psychopathology due to several factors. These factors
may include disrupted attachment with the incarcerated parent and the stigma associated with
parental incarceration. It may therefore be that interventions should focus on strengthening a child’s
relationship with the incarcerated parent (e.g., through communication and/or visitation).
Another important factor may be helping children to overcome “the conspiracy of silence”
(Kampfner,1995). The conspiracy of silence can involve keeping children unaware of the parent’s
actual whereabouts in a misguided attempt to protect the child, but Murray and Murray (2010) noted the
damaging effects on attachment if children are confused about the reason for a parent’s absence. A
second form the conspiracy of silence can take is not allowing the child to tell others about the parent’s
incarceration to avoid damaging the family’s reputation. According to Kampfner (1995), children need to
talk about their traumatic experiences and are further isolated by silence; effective interventions may
therefore be ones that make it possible for a child to talk about the incarcerated parent.
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Conclusion
The most important message of this review is that in studies from a variety of countries, there
is no support for the often-used claims that (a) seven out of ten CIP will become justice-involved and
(b) CIP are six times more likely than other children to become justice-involved. These claims may
result in stigma, which is a crucial issue in the lives of CIP (Phillips & Gates, 2011). The claims should
therefore no longer be used. Rather, accurate information should be disseminated on CIP and their
needs (Adalist-Estrin, 2009), and research should investigate interventions to effectively address the
challenges they may face.
Another issue is implications of our findings for intervention with CIP. We do not believe there
are clear, direct implications, but rather believe that it is important to have a conversation (along with
additional research) around effective interventions. Adalist-Estrin (2014) argued that in setting policy
and developing programs, rather than depending on preconceived ideas about CIP or their parents it
is critical to listen to CIP and understand the meaning they make of their parents’ incarceration.

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