, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 823–847 | Cite as

Formerly Incarcerated Parents and Their Children

  • Bruce Western
  • Natalie Smith


The negative effects of incarceration on child well-being are often linked to the economic insecurity of formerly incarcerated parents. Researchers caution, however, that the effects of parental incarceration may be small in the presence of multiple-partner fertility and other family complexity. Despite these claims, few studies have directly observed either economic insecurity or the full extent of family complexity. We study parent-child relationships with a unique data set that includes detailed information about economic insecurity and family complexity among parents just released from prison. We find that stable private housing, more than income, is associated with close and regular contact between parents and children. Formerly incarcerated parents see their children less regularly in contexts of multiple-partner fertility and in the absence of supportive family relationships. Significant housing and family effects are estimated even after we control for drug use and crime, which are themselves negatively related to parental contact. The findings point to the constraints of material insecurity and the complexity of family relationships on the contact between formerly incarcerated parents and their children.


Parental incarceration Family complexity Housing Economic insecurity Reentry 



This research was supported by grant 5R21HD073761-02 from NIH/NICHD, SES-1259013, SES 1627693, and SES 1424089 from the National Science Foundation; a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation; and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. We gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Catherine Sirois, Brielle Bryan, Laura Tach, and Demography editors and reviewers on earlier drafts of this paper; and the significant assistance of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, which provided access to correctional facilities and advice and collaboration throughout the research. The data for this article are from the Boston Reentry Study, a research project conducted by Bruce Western, Anthony Braga, and Rhiana Kohl.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Justice LabColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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