Each year, thousands— if not millions— of children see a parent go to prison. Their absence is felt in real and measurable ways. For example, scientific studies have shown that this group is more likely to engage in antisocial, violent and criminal behavior and even end up behind bars themselves. Drug abuse, physical and mental health problems, truancy and teenage pregnancy also occur in this population at higher rates.
Because of these adverse outcomes, these children have been deemed “orphans of justice” and “unseen victims” of the prison industrial complex. Victimhood may be the right way to look at it. A 2018 study shows that children who experienced parental imprisonment during their youth are also more likely to die prematurely.
Drug abuse, physical and mental health problems, truancy and teenage pregnancy also occur in this population at higher rates.
Why is this the case? Experts have a few theories as to why there’s a link between parental imprisonment and offspring mortality. One explanation is that parental imprisonment can be a very stressful event in the life of young children. It’s believed this acute trauma can lead to physical and mental health problems and possibly a premature death. Economists believe socioeconomics are at play, too. For instance, due to the financial strain of a single-parent household, these families may have fewer resources to get the medical help and medicines that they need. The result can be compromised immunity and contracting preventable diseases, diminishing quality of life and potentially shortening a life span.
There’s also a theory of correlation some scholars have posited. In other words, environment can be to blame. Kids who come from a household where one parent is behind bars may be more likely to live in higher crime areas and are exposed to more traumatic events. Whether from a drug overdose or a homicide, these kids may be more at risk of dying at a young age.
Kids who come from a household where one parent is behind bars may be more likely to live in higher crime areas and are exposed to more traumatic events.
More research is necessary to understand the size and scope of this problem. Regardless, it is clear that children of prisoners need more attention and help to compensate for the absence. We can hope initiatives will be introduced in the future which will result in fewer children being affected by the negative consequences of the crimes of their parents.
[Monalisa Johnson is a licensed and ordained minister of the gospel and a certified life coach as well as a mother and entrepreneur. In no way is anything that she writes, speaks or shares considered medical advice or clinical therapy. Consider all that you receive to be life coaching and guidance.]