The Intergenerational Effects of the Criminal Justice System on Children’s Health

Children whose parents use substances or are incarcerated (or both) are at-risk for experiencing negative outcomes, e.g., physical and mental health declines, early substance use initiation, criminal activity, being exposed to maltreatment or harsh parenting, and poor school outcomes. In the U.S., at a point in time, 2 million children have an incarcerated parent and parental substance use is also common with 12% of children having a substance-using parent. In contrast to past research, we will evaluate traditional punitive sanctions and rehabilitative correctional programs and their effects on children. Many studies have focused on effects on adults; by contrast, there are few existing studies that examine the interplay of sentencing decisions, parental status, and children. The studies that have looked at this interplay have relied on small samples, have limited information on the timing of events, and are correlational rather than focusing on casual relationships. Our study will offer insight into how U.S. public policies for curbing criminal offenses is affecting the children of those who are subject to the criminal sanctions.