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  1. Increased mortality risk after parental imprisonment

Increased mortality risk after parental imprisonment

Every year, parents of thousands of children are sentenced to prison in the Netherlands. This may have negative consequences for the well-being of these children. Recent research by the NSCR shows that children with a parent in prison have a significantly increased mortality risk during their own adulthood.

Earlier research has already shown that children who experienced the imprisonment of a parent, more often show criminal behavior and have more mental health problems. Also research among American toddlers and Danish teens shows a correlation between parental imprisonment and premature death. The new NSCR study goes a step further by looking at mortality during adulthood (between 18 and 65 years) of people who experienced the imprisonment of a parent during their childhood.

Mortality rate more than twice as high

The study showed that these children had died significantly more often during their own adulthood - in 6.9% of cases - than children with non-criminal parents (3.2%). A significant difference was also found with children of criminal parents who did not go to jail (4%), even after controlling for the types and number of crimes by the parents. This indicates that the increased mortality risk has to do with the parent's imprisonment and not simply with the parent's criminal behavior.

Consecutive generations studied

Researchers Van de Weijer, Smallbone and Bouwman used the Transfive Study. The starting point of this dataset are 198 boys who were in a parenting school between 1911 and 1914 because of problem behavior or because their parents did not adequately care for them. In the Transfive Study, the complete criminal records and demographic data of all descendants of these high-risk youths were collected. This study used two consecutive generations of the data set: from 919 parents (average born in 1932) the NSCR researched how their criminal behavior and imprisonment leads to premature mortality among their 1241 children (average born in 1960).

More attention to children of detainees

This study shows that children of prisoners are a vulnerable group and that more attention is needed for their possible health problems. In addition, criminal justice should reckon with the number of different negative consequences of imprisonment for the children of detainees.

Publication details and further reading

Van de Weijer, S.G.A., Smallbone, H.S. & Bouwman, V. (2018) Parental Imprisonment and Premature Mortality in Adulthood. Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology.

Dr Steve van de Weijer

Senior Researcher

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