Effects of Parental Imprisonment on Children's Antisocial Behaviour and Delinquency Through the Life-Course

Joseph Murray, University of Cambridge
David P. Farrington, University of Cambridge

Background: Prisoners' children appear to suffer profound psychosocial difficulties during their parent's imprisonment. However, no study has disentangled the effects of parental imprisonment from the effects of parental convictions and other childhood risk factors; and there is very little evidence on the later life outcomes of prisoners' children. We hypothesise that parental imprisonment predicts children's own antisocial/delinquent outcomes partly because parental imprisonment directly causes children's outcomes, and partly because it is associated with parental convictions and other childhood risk factors for delinquency.

Methods: This study uses prospective longitudinal data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD). The CSDD includes data on 411 Inner London males and their parents. We compare boys who experience parental imprisonment during their childhood (age 0-10) with boys whose parent(s) were imprisoned before their birth, and with boys whose parents never went to prison. Individual, family and parenting risk factors for delinquency were measured when boys were aged 8-10. Twelve antisocial and delinquent outcomes wre assessed at ages 10, 14, 18, 32 and 40.

Results: Parental imprisonment during chilhood predicted all antisocial/delinquent outcomes in the study, and predicted higher rates of antisocial/delinquent outcomes than parental imprisonment before birth and multiple parental convictions without imprisonment. Parental imprisonment during childhood was strongly associated with many other childhood risk factors for delinquency. After controlling for parental convictions and other childhood risk factors, parental imprisonment during childhood still predicted several antisocial/delinquent outcomes, even up to age 32.

Conclusions: Parental imprisonment is a strong predictor of antisocial/delinquent outcomes through the life-course. Prisoners' children's outcomes are partly explained by parental criminality, and partly explained by other risk factors associated with parental imprisonment. Our results also suggest that parental imprisonment experienced during childhood is a direct cause of several important antisocial/delinquent outcomes in later life.

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Updated 05/20/2006