Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

A Prevalence Study of Children with Imprisoned Fathers: Annual and Lifetime Estimates

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

A Prevalence Study of Children with Imprisoned Fathers: Annual and Lifetime Estimates

Article excerpt

Introduction

Criminological knowledge on the long-term effects of imprisonment on offenders is incomplete and only beginning to be examined in relation to the second-generation effects on children. In the last decade, there has been an increase in research addressing the question of whether parental imprisonment substantially adds to a young person's risk of offending and other poor developmental outcomes, or whether it has a limited effect in the presence of a high concentration of other risk factors (for example, Murray & Farrington 2005, 2008; Foster & Hagan 2007; Kinner et al. 2007; Besemer et al. 2011; Geller et al. 2012; see Murray 2010 for a review of the longitudinal research). A recent meta-analysis of 40 studies revealed that parental incarceration is associated with a higher risk of antisocial behaviour in children, but not with mental health problems, drug use or poor educational performance (Murray et al. 2012). New questions are also emerging regarding the processes that transmit risk to children. Similarly, it is important to consider whether parental imprisonment is sometimes a protective factor for children.

These are vital questions as imprisonment is a frequently used response to offending. Although the national imprisonment rate declined by two per cent in Australia between 2010 and 2011, it increased by one per cent between 2011 and 2012, when it stood at 168 prisoners per 100,000 adult population (ABS 2012a). The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners increased by four per cent during 2011 and 2012 and the total Australian prisoner population increased by 31 per cent between 2002 and 2012 (ABS 2012a). Most recently, Sampson (2011: 820) has argued that 'it is incumbent on criminologists to think in terms of the social ledger of incarceration's effects'.

At a more basic level, there is surprisingly little knowledge in Australia regarding the extent to which Australian children are affected by parental (maternal and paternal) imprisonment. Data are not routinely collected on the parental status of prisoners and therefore there are no nationwide figures. A similar problem exists in the United States, where it has been estimated that in 2007, 52 per cent of State prisoners and 63 per cent of federal prisoners were parents of minor children (Maruschak et al. 2010: 35). Furthermore, 1.7 million children (or one in every 43 children) were estimated to have a parent in State or federal prison in 2007 (Maruschak et al. 2010: 37). Approximately 91 per cent of these children experienced paternal imprisonment, rather than maternal imprisonment.

A study using data collected from the 2001 New South Wales Inmate Health Survey, consisting of a cross-section of 914 inmates randomly selected from 29 correctional facilities, assessed the number of children experiencing parental imprisonment (Quilty 2003; Quilty et al. 2004). Approximately 335 fathers and 83 mothers were included in the survey (sample sizes calculated from percentages reported). Preliminary estimates indicated that almost one in 20 children in New South Wales have experienced parental imprisonment in their lifetime (Quilty et al. 2004: 342). This would amount to around 172,000 children, based on population estimates by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2005). The proportion is even higher for Indigenous children, such that approximately one in five NSW children have experienced parental imprisonment in their lifetime (Quilty et al. 2004: 342). National estimates drawn from the NSW data show that one in 200 children (0.5 per cent), aged 15 years or younger, have a father in prison (Quilty 2003).

The high rates of Indigenous children's experience with parental imprisonment are associated with the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the court system (ABS 2012b) and in correctional facilities. According to the 2011 Census, Indigenous people comprise 2. …

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