Women’s Prison Association No Longer Supports Their Claim that Children of Incarcerated Parents Are More Likely to End Up in Prison
Date:  03-02-2015

More research is needed to examine intergenerational incarceration, WPA asserts
On January 30, 2015 Reentry Central posted an article about a bill framed by Andrea James of Families for Justice as Healing and submitted to Massachusetts State Representatives for consideration. HD# 3321, also known as An Act to Create Community-Based Sentencing Alternatives for Non-Violent Primary Caretakers of Dependent Children, contained the sentence, “The Women’s Prison Association reports that children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves.”

Following publication of the article, Reentry Central, was contacted by Women’s Prison Association (WPA)and asked us to publish a correction proclaiming that the statement was inaccurate.

Reentry Central strives to present accurate information. Reentry Central researched the statement and found that in fact it was made by the Women’s Prison Association. Since WPA was the one that made the statement originally, we asked if they would like to clarify why they have back-peddled on it.

On February 25 Reentry Central received the following statement from WPA:

In 2001, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family to Family initiative partnered with the Women’s Prison Association to develop a guide entitled, "Partnerships Between Corrections and Child Welfare: Collaboration for Change, Part Two." Since its publication, numerous outlets have cited a statistic from the guide that we no longer support: “Children of offenders are five times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves. One in 10 will have been incarcerated before reaching adulthood.”

The Women’s Prison Association published the guide in 2001 with the belief that it was accurate. However, given newer reports and data, we believe that the aforementioned statistic is no longer valid and fails to describe the complexities surrounding the effects of parental incarceration on children. While studies continue to show mixed findings about specific outcomes like intergenerational incarceration, what researchers do agree on is that multiple risk factors can contribute to negative outcomes in the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of children with incarcerated parents.

Just as each woman’s pathway to criminal justice involvement is unique, so is each child’s response to her incarceration. A child’s age, personality, length of separation, and opportunities for continuing contact during incarceration are just some of the many factors that contribute to the short- and long-term effects of a parent’s incarceration on his or her child, including the likelihood of future criminal justice involvement.

More comprehensive research is needed so we can better understand the different ways each family member is impacted by incarceration, especially young minor children. The Women’s Prison Association supports that research and looks forward to sharing updated findings. We also recommend research that examines the positive outcomes of children with incarcerated parents to help us better understand what helps children succeed.

In the meantime, we have found the following resources especially helpful in our work to support criminal justice involved women and their children:

Urban Institute: Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children

Amrrican Bar Foundation: Talking about Parental Incarceration at the White House

John Jay College: Parental Incarceration and Child Wellbeing

Amazon: Children of the Prison Boom