Parent-Child Visiting Practices in Prisons and Jails: A Synthesis of Research and Practice
Date:  08-27-2018

Urban Institute report offers recommendations on parent-child visiting, including improving how visiting is implemented
From the introduction of the Urban Institute report Parent-Child Visiting Practices in Prisons and Jails: A Synthesis of Research and Practice:

Recent estimates indicate that 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent incarcerated, and more than 5 million—7 percent of all children in the United States—have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their life (Murphey and Cooper 2015; The Pew Charitable Trusts 2010).1 Black children and children from economically disadvantaged families are more likely to experience parental incarceration (figures 1.A and 1.B). In fact, nearly twice as many black children (11.5 percent) have had a parent who lived with them go to jail or prison compared to white children (6 percent). And a child living in poverty is three times more likely (12.5 percent) to have experienced parental incarceration than a child whose household income is at least twice the federal poverty level (3.9 percent) (Murphey and Cooper 2015).

Despite these statistics, research on the true scope and nature of parental incarceration remains lacking for several reasons:

  • Most studies have focused on measuring the number of parents in prison, but less is known about how many parents have spent time in jail. Therefore, it is likely that many more children are affected by parental incarceration than what researchers have estimated.

  • Prior research has been unable to accurately quantify how many children have incarcerated mothers compared to incarcerated fathers, resulting in a limited understanding of the differential effects of paternal versus maternal incarceration.

  • Finally, there has been little research on how parental incarceration affects children over their life course or how length of incarceration affects a parent’s ability to communicate with their children and maintain contact after release.

    Still, it is clear that the millions of children affected by parental incarceration are a vulnerable population. Losing a parent to incarceration is traumatic, and the disruption of the parent-child relationship and attachment is considered an adverse childhood experience. Adverse childhood experiences are associated with an increased risk of trauma and the potential for lasting effects such as risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death.2 Parental incarceration has also been associated with children who exhibit antisocial behavior and poor school performance (Murray, Farrington, and Sekol 2012). The negative effects of parental incarceration are often compounded by other adverse experiences these children are more likely to experience, including poverty, parental divorce or separation, and exposure to violence (Murphey and Cooper 2015).

    To mitigate these risks, some correctional agencies offer parent-child visits in prisons or jails, often with the help of community-based organizations. Parent-child visits are consistent with one of the central tenets of the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights, specifically that children have the right to speak with, see, and touch their parents (see box 1). Developed by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership in 2003 and based on young people’s experiences with parental incarceration, the bill of rights identifies a child’s need for and right to a relationship with their parent involved in the justice system. The bill of rights has been widely accepted and used by several organizations working with children of incarcerated parents and their families. Continue reading >>>