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Parental Incarceration and the Family

Psychological and Social Effects of Imprisonment on Children, Parents, and Caregivers

By Joyce Arditti

Publication Year: 2012

Over 2% of U.S. children under the age of 18—more than 1,700,000 children—have a parent in prison. These children experience very real disadvantages when compared to their peers: they tend to experience lower levels of educational success, social exclusion, and even a higher likelihood of their own future incarceration. Meanwhile, their new caregivers have to adjust to their new responsibilities as their lives change overnight, and the incarcerated parents are cut off from their children’s development.


Parental Incarceration brings a family perspective to our understanding of what it means to have so many of our nation’s parents in prison. Drawing from the field’s most recent research and the author’s own fieldwork, Parental Incarceration offers an in-depth look at how incarceration affects entire families: offender parents, children, and care-givers. Through the use of exemplars, anecdotes, and reflections, Joyce Arditti puts a human face on the mass of humanity behind bars, as well as those family members who are affected by a parent’s imprisonment. In focusing on offenders as parents, a radically different social policy agenda emerges—one that calls for real reform and that responds to the collective vulnerabilities of the incarcerated and their kin

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright PAge

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The writing of this book would not have been possible without the men, women, and children who shared their experiences with the research community. I am particularly indebted to those families who gave of their time and participated in my own research, which is included throughout the book. ...

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1. Introduction: A Framework for Understanding Parental Incarceration

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pp. 1-22

The visiting area of the jail had a mix of smells: urine, sweat, and desperation. I was instantly reminded of the homes I had visited during my tenure as a social worker, many years prior. The air was close and the room noisy as it was packed with visitors on this early Saturday morning. ...

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2. Context and Processes Associated with Incarcerated Parenting

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pp. 23-43

Mary turned 40 in prison. She explains that as a child she was bounced around from shelter to shelter because “my mom didn’t know what to do with me” and her mother’s alcoholic husband, Mary’s stepfather, John, “despised me.” She recounts: “I was only 12 years old when my mother and her husband would kick me out for ...

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3. Maternal Incarceration

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pp. 44-69

Allison Roberts was born January 5, 1981, in a southwest Virginia hospital to Sally and Henry Roberts. She is African American, the youngest of four children, and has three older brothers. Raised by her mother and now-deceased grandmother, in her life history narrative she states: “My father never was a factor in my life: ...

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4. Paternal Incarceration

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pp. 70-94

Charlie is 41 years old and is 5 years in on a 15-year federal sentence for larceny and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Prior to his sentence, during his litigation, he was held 2 years in a local jail, close to his home. He and his family did not have the resources to post bond. ...

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5. The Effects of Incarceration on Families and Children

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pp. 95-139

It is busy on the “Prison Talk”1 website today. There are numerous postings by children with incarcerated fathers or mothers, parents with incarcerated children, husbands with incarcerated wives, women who share children with incarcerated men, and incarcerated parents themselves. ...

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6. Conclusion: Practice and Policy Implications of a Family Perspective on Parental Incarceration

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pp. 140-183

Since the age of 11, Selene Diaz1 was the child of an incarcerated father. She struggled with this fact emotionally but soon gained acceptance in her inner-city neighborhood by joining a gang. One thing led to another, and after fighting in school, Selene was arrested and sent to juvenile hall at the age of 15. ...


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pp. 184-204


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pp. 205-208


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pp. 209-236


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pp. 237-248

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About the Author

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p. 249

Joyce A. Arditti is Professor of Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and author of numerous articles on incarcerated parents and their reentry into family life.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814705131
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814705124
Print-ISBN-10: 081470512X

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 794004261
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Parental Incarceration and the Family

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Prisoners' families -- United States.
  • Children of prisoners -- United States.
  • Children of women prisoners -- United States.
  • Prisoners -- Family relationships -- United States.
  • Women Prisoners -- Family relationships -- United States.
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