Paternal Incarceration and Early Juvenile Delinquency
Rising rates of incarceration since the 1970s, combined with high rates of fatherhood among men in jails and prisons, have led to an unprecedented number of children more than 1.7 million in 2007 affected by paternal imprisonment. The growing literature documenting challenges faced by families following a fathers’ incarceration raises grave concerns and suggests that the growing rates of incarceration among fathers might have the unintended consequence of increasing delinquency and criminality among their children. This paper uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to assess patterns of delinquency among school-aged children, and particularly, differences in delinquency by fathers’ incarceration status. A series of item-response models suggest nontrivial rates of antisocial behavior among children in the analysis sample, including higher rates of delinquency, and a greater variety of delinquent activities, among children with histories of paternal incarceration. While estimated relationships are preliminary and are not intended to represent causal effects, the increased delinquency among children of incarcerated fathers, particularly before the commonly-acknowledged “peak offending years” of adolescence, raises serious concerns.
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