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Parental Imprisonment and Premature Mortality in Adulthood

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Rising prison populations worldwide have led to an increasing body of research about the well-being of children of prisoners. Research to date has demonstrated that the consequences of parental imprisonment for children are significant and long lasting, often extending beyond the imprisonment period and into adulthood. However, research examining the association between parental imprisonment and offspring health problems and mortality is lacking. Moreover, no research to date has examined the association between parental imprisonment and premature mortality among adults.


Using a Dutch multigenerational sample, this study aimed to extend existing literature by examining the link between parental imprisonment and offspring mortality up to age 65, while controlling for parental criminality.


Results indicated that children of imprisoned parents were significantly more likely to die prematurely than children of both non-criminal and criminal but non-imprisoned parents.


These findings implicate that the mortality risk is not the consequence of the parental criminal behavior but is specifically related to the incarceration of the parent. Further research is required to examine the mechanisms at play for the increased risk of premature mortality for children of prisoners. This research has important implications for health-related early interventions and criminal justice policy.

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  1. Using all Dutch individuals born in 1942 as a control group would have made it possible to compare until age 65 (i.e., the age until a death is considered premature, according to the World Health Organization). However, as only a few G4 sample members from the Transfive Study were measured up to age 65, this would make it difficult to make comparisons at older ages.


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Correspondence to Steve G. A. van de Weijer.

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van de Weijer, S.G.A., Smallbone, H.S. & Bouwman, V. Parental Imprisonment and Premature Mortality in Adulthood. J Dev Life Course Criminology 4, 148–161 (2018).

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