Paternal Incarceration and Father Involvement in Fragile Families
High rates of incarceration, coupled with high rates of fatherhood among men in prison, has motivated a far-reaching literature that examines the effects of paternal incarceration on family stability and child development. Although a growing body of evidence documents significant disadvantage among families with incarcerated fathers, far less is known about the causal nature of this relationship. Most notably, the majority of incarcerated fathers were living apart from their children at the time of their criminal justice contact, raising the question of whether incarceration incapacitates fathers from their children’s lives, or simply reinforces a pre-existing absence. In this paper, we use a population-based sample of urban families to examine the extent of father involvement among fathers with incarceration histories, including both fathers who become incarcerated and those incarcerated in the more distant past. While our findings are consistent with earlier work that documents the concentration of incarceration among nonresident fathers, we find that resident fathers who become incarcerated are significantly more likely to leave their family household upon release. Moreover, many nonresident fathers who become incarcerated had maintained a degree of contact with their children, which is compromised upon incarceration. Observed reductions in father-child contact are driven by a combination of incapacitation while in prison or jail, and a reduction in contact upon release.
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