Spotlight on FFCWS and Incarceration Research

May 13, 2016

Recent publications using the Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing data provide a family-wide view of the effects of parental incarceration on family dynamics and child behavior, as well as potential predictors for paternal and maternal incarceration.

Recent publications

Turney and Wildeman published two articles related to maternal incarceration: they found that previously imprisoned mothers reported worse health and had increased odds of depression and heavy drinking, compared to never imprisoned mothers. Mothers whose partner had not been imprisoned in the past 2 years reported the worst outcomes. Separately, they showed that the effect of incarceration on children varied—although maternal incarceration has no average effects on child wellbeing, the effects vary by mothers’ propensities to become incarcerated; that is, incarceration is worse for children of mothers least likely to experience incarceration and not consequential for those likely to be incarcerated.

Haskins used child reports for the children at age 9 to understand the the effects of paternal incarceration on the child’s behavior. She found that children experiencing a first paternal incarceration between ages 1 and 9 are more likely to report/show externalizing, internalizing, and delinquent behaviors than children of similar demographics who do not experience paternal incarceration.

Paat and Hope examined relationship quality between parents and its relationship to incarceration. They found that couples reporting higher relationship quality were less likely to enter the criminal justice system, and fathers who report higher frequency of physical attack and control behaviors within a relationship were more likely to enter the criminal justice system.

Geller, Jaeger, and Pace demonstrated how the quality of available data on paternal incarceration can be improved by supplementing survey data with administrative records on criminal history from a state criminal justice agency. By combining FFCWS data with administrative records, they were able to increase the number of fathers identified with criminal histories by more than 20 percent.

Incarceration data available

FFCWS has collected survey interview data on father's incarceration experience (baseline through age 9) and mother's incarceration (ages 3, 5, and 9), as well as on the focal children's pre-delinquent behaviors (age 9). The age 15 core survey will include data on parental incarceration as well as focal children's delinquent behaviors, contact with police, and involvement with the criminal justice system.


Kristin Turney, Christopher Wildeman. 2015. "Detrimental for Some? Heterogeneous Effects of Maternal Incarceration on Child Wellbeing." Criminology and Public Policy. 14(1): 125-156.

Kristen Turney, Christopher Wildeman. 2015. "Self-Reported Health Among Recently Incarcerated Mothers." American Journal of Public Health. 105(10): 2014-2020.

Anna Haskins. 2015. "Paternal Incarceration and Child-Reported Behavioral Functioning at Age 9." Social Science Research. 52: 18-33.

Yok-Fong Paat, Trina Hope. 2015. "Relationship Dynamics, Gender, and Criminal Offending in Fragile Families." Journal of Family Violence. 30(2): 227-241.

Amanda Geller, Kate Jaeger, Garrett Pace. 2016. "Surveys, Records, and the Study of Incarceration in Families." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. 665(1): 22-43.