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The Relationship Between Parental Imprisonment and Offspring Offending in England and The Netherlands

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This article examines whether prisoners’ children have more adult convictions than children whose parents were convicted but not imprisoned. This is investigated in England and the Netherlands from 1946 to 1981 using two prospective longitudinal datasets: the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and the NSCR Transfive Study. In the Netherlands, no significant relationship was found between parental imprisonment and offspring offending. In England, a relationship was found for sons only. This association can be partly explained by parental criminality. However, after controlling for number of parental convictions and other childhood risk factors, a significant relationship remained between number of parental imprisonments and sons’ offending. When parental imprisonment at different ages is examined, parental imprisonment only significantly predicted sons’ offending when it happened after the sons’ seventh birthday.
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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PARENTAL IMPRISONMENT
AND OFFSPRING OFFENDING IN ENGLAND AND THE
NETHERLANDS
Sytske Besemer
*
, Victor van der Geest, Joseph Murray, Catrien C. J. H. Bijleveld
and David P. Farrington
This article examines whether prisoners’ children have more adult convictions than children whose
parents were convicted but not imprisoned. This is investigated in England and the Netherlands
from 1946 to 1981 using two prospective longitudinal datasets: the Cambridge Study in Delinquent
Development and the NSCR Transfive Study. In the Netherlands, no significant relationship was
found between parental imprisonment and offspring offending. In England, a relationship was
found for sons only. This association can be partly explained by parental criminality. However,
after controlling for number of parental convictions and other childhood risk factors, a significant
relationship remained between number of parental imprisonments and sons’ offending. When pa-
rental imprisonment at different ages is examined, parental imprisonment only significantly pre-
dicted sons’ offending when it happened after the sons’ seventh birthday.
Keywords: parental imprisonment, parental criminality, offspring offending, cross-
national comparison, longitudinal studies
Introduction
In recent years, imprisonment rates have increased enormously in Western Europe and
the United States (Walmsley 2009). As a consequence, today, an estimated 1.5 million
children in the United States and 100,000 children in England
1
have an incarcerated
parent (Murray and Farrington 2008).
2
There are no official figures for the prevalence
of imprisoned parents and children in the Netherlands, although research on women in
Dutch prisons estimates that between 800 and 1,200 children each year have an impris-
oned mother (Slotboom et al. 2008). It is clear that a substantial and increasing number
of children experience parental imprisonment.
Earlier research suggests that parental imprisonment might have undesirable effects
on children left behind: they exhibit more criminal behaviour and mental health prob-
lems than children whose parents were not imprisoned (Murray and Farrington 2008;
Murray et al. 2009). Researchers have been unable to demonstrate what is causing this
increased risk. The impact could be explained by the separation from the parent, or by
collateral effects such as economic deprivation because of loss of family income. The risk
could also be explained by the parent’s criminal behaviour. It is extremely difficult to
disentangle these influences without an experimental design. It is interesting, however,
to see whether the impact of parental imprisonment varies by social and penal context.
As Farrington and Loeber (1999: 300) stated, ‘Cross-national comparisons of risk factors
* Institute of Criminology, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA, United Kingdom; Sb637@cam.ac.uk.
1
In this article, ‘England’ is used as shorthand for ‘England and Wales’.
2
These numbers are called the point prevalence and reflect the number of prisoners’ children at one point in time.
Ó The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ISTD) .
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
doi:10.1093/bjc/azq072 BRIT. J. CRIMINOL. (2011) 51, 413–437
Advance Access publication 6 January 2011
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for delinquency are important for addressing the question of how far the causes of de-
linquency are similar in different times and places’.
Murray et al. (2007) compared effects of parental imprisonment on children in Sweden
and England. Children of imprisoned parents in England displayed more criminal behav-
iour than children whose parents were not imprisoned. In Sweden, there was no difference
between these groups after accounting for levels of parental criminality. Hitherto, this is
the only cross-national study of the impact of parental imprisonment on offspring offend-
ing. As Murray and Farrington (2008: 186) stated, ‘these results require replication’.
This article investigates the impact of parental imprisonment on children’s criminal
behaviour in a cross-national context. Specifically, it seeks an answer to the following
questions: Do children of prisoners display more criminal behaviour than children of convicted
but not imprisoned parents? And: Are the results different in the Netherlands and England?
After the Second World War, the Netherlands developed tolerant, liberal social pol-
icies and a humane prison system and sentencing guidelines (Downes 1988). The im-
prisonment rate dropped and was the lowest in Western Europe until the late 1980s
(Downes and van Swaaningen 2007). As Downes and Van Swaaningen (2007: 32) stated,
after the Second World War, for three to four decades onwards, ‘Dutch penal policy
became a byword for humane prison conditions and sparing use of custody’ where reso-
cialization was the primary goal, while England developed a more repressive penal sys-
tem. England had much higher imprisonment rates and longer sentences (Downes
1992). In the Netherlands, possibilities for families to visit prisoners were ‘more liberally
available’ than in England (Downes 1992: 201). Additionally, Dutch prisoners earned
more money for their work in custody, which enabled more contact with their families,
as phone calls and letters cost money. Furthermore, the ‘generous welfare state’ assured
‘comprehensive social insurance over the life span’ (Downes and van Swaaningen 2007:
38). This might have resulted in more financial support for prisoners’ families. More-
over, because of the focus on punishment in England versus resocialization in the Nether-
lands, the social stigma for prisoners and their families might have been lower in the
Netherlands. As we will describe later in this article, this stigma can result in problem
behaviour in children (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999).
Recently, imprisonment rates increased in both countries, in the Netherlands much
more so than in England. Although the Netherlands still has shorter imprisonments,
today, the countries are more similar, both being more punitive than previously and
having imprisonment rates that are among the highest in Western Europe (Downes
1988; Tonry and Bijleveld 2007). Investigating these countries in the 1950s to the
1970s, when they differed significantly in their criminal justice policies, can yield impor-
tant information for theories about the effects of parental imprisonment.
Earlier studies examined the impact of imprisonment (for an overview, see Murray
and Farrington 2008), but they investigated this by comparing prisoners’ children to
children without imprisoned parents. They failed to distinguish between children of
convicted and non-convicted parents, making it difficult to differentiate between the
effects of imprisonment and the effects of a parent’s convictions on children (Murray
et al. 2009). The current study focuses on the additional impact of parental imprison-
ment over and above parental conviction. Moreover, a comparison between the Nether-
lands and England on the relationship between parental imprisonment and offspring
offending has never been done previously. In the present study, we use Dutch and Eng-
lish data on imprisonment and convictions of both parents and children. This enables us
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to compare results cross-nationally and to examine the independent impact of parental
imprisonment and parental convictions on offspring offending. Before formulating hy-
potheses and explaining how the study was conducted, we first discuss how and why
parental imprisonment might affect children’s behaviour.
Theoretical Background
Most studies on parental imprisonment conclude that it affects children unfavourably
(Murray and Farrington 2008). Some authors, however, have pointed to the possibility
that parental imprisonment could impact upon some children favourably, because re-
moving an abusive parent from the home allows a child to develop positively (Eddy and
Reid 2003; Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999). Below, we discuss mechanisms that could ex-
plain unfavourable and favourable impacts of parental imprisonment and moderating
factors that influence this relationship. We were unable to study all of these mechanisms
in our study, but the theories provide a good starting point for interpreting our findings.
Unfavourable impact
One explanation for the unfavourable impact of parental imprisonment is that parental
imprisonment is a stressful life event for children (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999). Sep-
aration from a parent might cause attachment problems, which, in turn, can lead to
problem behaviour (Bowlby 1969; 1973; 1980). Moreover, because such children are
less bonded to their parents, they may have fewer restraints to display anti-social behav-
iour (Hirschi 1969). Hagan and Dinovitzer (1999: 125) stressed ‘the importance of pa-
rental supervision, role models, and support in the childhood socialization process’.
According to their ‘socialization perspective’, children will turn to their peers when they
lack parental socialization (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999: 123). They will use their peers as
role models, which might lead to more delinquent behaviour (Warr 2002).
A second possible explanation for an unfavourable impact of parental imprisonment is
the stigma that prisoners’ children carry in society. According to the ‘stigmatization per-
spective’, these children can experience bullying and teasing, which might increase prob-
lem behaviour (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999: 126). Official bodies such as the police might
be biased to and pay more attention to prisoners’ families (Farrington 2002). This con-
nects to labelling theory, which posits that people will behave according to the label society
attaches to them. According to Lemert (1967: v), ‘social control leads to deviance’. Far-
rington previously demonstrated deviance amplification, an increase in self-reported de-
viant behaviour, after official action in the form of criminal convictions in the Cambridge
Study (Farrington 1977; Farrington et al. 1978). Sherman (1993: 459) hypothesized that
persistent bullying, teasing and official police action might lead to ‘defiance’—a ‘proud
and angry emotion’ that can result in anti-social behaviour in children.
A third explanation concerns economic strain following a parent’s imprisonment. Im-
prisonment often causes a loss of income, which can produce financial difficulties for
the family (Bloom and Steinhart 1993). According to the ‘strain perspective’ (Hagan
and Dinovitzer 1999: 124), this economic deprivation might lead to more problem be-
haviour in children.
As well as economic strain, when children lose a parent to prison, they lose ‘human
and social capital’ (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999: 124). The remaining single parent may
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be unable to devote sufficient time and energy to their children, especially as they
suffer from the loss of their partner as well. Several studies suggest that children from
single-parent families tend to display more problem behaviour (Amato 2001; Juby and
Farrington 2001; Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan 2004; Wells and Rankin 1991).
No impact
A further explanation for the correlation between parental imprisonment and offspring
offending is that imprisoned people are often the most persistent and serious criminals
(Murray and Murray 2010). Based on theories and studies of intergenerational trans-
mission, we expect stronger transmission of criminal behaviour from parent to child
in the case of a more criminal parent (Farrington 2002). Consequently, it may not
be the parental imprisonment that is causing the offspring’s offending behaviour,
but the fact that the parent was criminal before the prison sentence. This ‘selection
perspective’ (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999: 128) assumes ‘that imprisoned parents
and their children are already different from parents and their children who are not
imprisoned, prior to the imposition of a prison sentence’. Murray and Farrington
(2008: 163) proposed as one hypothesis that ‘parental criminality, parental mental ill-
ness, and other environmental risks before parental imprisonment might cause child
behaviour problems, rather than parental imprisonment itself’. So, unlike the theories
discussed previously that assume an unfavourable impact of parental imprisonment, this
explanation proposes that parental imprisonment has no causal impact, but that an as-
sociation between parental imprisonment and offspring offending can be explained by
background differences.
Favourable impact
In some cases, parental imprisonment may have a favourable rather than an unfavour-
able impact on children. As Hagan and Dinovitzer (1999: 123) stated, ‘there obviously
are cases involving the imprisonment of negligent, violent, and abusive parents where
the imprisonment of the parents benefits the children by removing serious risks of cur-
rent and future harm’. In these cases, children’s social capital might increase rather than
decrease following a parent’s imprisonment (Ezinga et al. 2009; Jaffee et al. 2003). This
highlights the importance of obtaining knowledge regarding the family environment
prior to parental imprisonment (Murray and Murray 2010).
Furthermore, the moment that parents get incarcerated might be the first time that
social support organizations have contact with families. Parental imprisonment is rarely
the only problem in a family; such families often have to cope with various difficulties,
including unemployment, financial and housing problems (Ezinga et al. 2009; Murray
2005). This can go unnoticed for a long time, but parents being sent to prison could
trigger the start of social service support. This could improve children’s social and emo-
tional development.
When a parent is imprisoned, this might be an opportunity to restore contact with and
super vision over children. The imprisonment may function as a turning point in the
sense that relationships between prisoners and their children may be resumed, since
the imprisoned parent’s life becomes more regular (Ezinga et al. 2009). Although in-
carcerated parents are greatly restricted in their contact with their children, time in
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prison allows them to reflect on their relationships and can increase motivation to focus
attention on their children when they are released (Ezinga et al. 2009). Some prisons
also offer programmes, often through non-profit organizations, to restore contact with
children.
3
It is difficult to disentangle the different explanations for favourable and unfavour-
able effects of parental imprisonment and currently there is little empirical evidence on
these mechanisms (Murray and Farrington 2008). However, most studies conclude that
parental imprisonment has an unfavourable rather than a favourable impact. As Hagan
and Dinovitzer (1999: 125) state, ‘it is more likely imprisonment is harmful to children
even in dysfunctional families, because imprisonment will more often compound than
mitigate preexisting family problems’.
Moderators
Not all children are affected in the same way by parental imprisonment. Moderating
variables may influence the way children respond to their parent’s imprisonment
(Baron and Kenny 1986). Murray and Farrington (2008) described several variables that
may alter the impact of parental imprisonment. Below, we only discuss those moderators
that are examined in the current study: maternal versus paternal imprisonment, child
age, gender, and a country’s prison policies and penal atmosphere.
Researchers have suggested that maternal imprisonment is more disruptive than pa-
ternal imprisonment (Bloom 1993; Bloom and Steinhart 1993; Murray and Murray
2010). Mothers are frequently the primary caretaker. When a mother is imprisoned
and the father is already absent, children are often relocated with a new caregiver, home
and school (Ezinga et al. 2009). Because there are fewer prisons for women, mothers are
generally detained further away from their children than fathers, making it harder for
the children to visit (Beckerman 1989; Fishman 1983; Hairston 1991; Myers et al. 1999).
A child’s age and developmental stage might also shape how parental imprisonment is
experienced. Infants are particularly at risk of attachment problems (Bowlby 1969; 1973;
1980). Due to early separation, they might form insecure attachments, which influences
their later development. Two-to-six-year-olds have the highest chance of witnessing the
crime and a parent’s arrest, because they are too young to be at school (Johnston 1995).
Older children may experience the previously mentioned stigma of having an incarcer-
ated parent (Ezinga et al. 2009). Teenagers who are developing self-identity and auton-
omy are at risk of associating with children from other problem families, which might
lead to delinquent behaviour (Myers et al. 1999).
Gender may also moderate the impact of parental imprisonment. Three prior studies
on gender differences showed contradictory results (Friedman and Esselstyn 1965;
Gabel and Shindledecker 1993; Murray et al. 2007). An explanation for differences is
that boys and girls react differently to stressful life events such as parental imprisonment
(Murray and Farrington 2008). In general, boys display more externalizing problem
3
Examples in the Netherlands are ‘Gezin in Balans’ (www.gezin-in-balans.nl) by Humanitas and ‘Ouders, kinderen en detentie-
project’ organized by stichting Exodus (www.exodus.nl/page_249.html), both of which help to maintain and improve contact be-
tween parents and children, such as with volunteers who take the children to visit their parent in prison. An example in England is
the Grassroots Family Days and Support Project, which organizes family days to maintain contact between prisoners and their fam-
ilies (2000). An example in the United States is the Horizon Program, whose mission is ‘to prepare prisoners to live responsibly with
others’, including restoring family relations (www.horizoncommunities.org/FactSheet.htm).
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behaviour such as delinquency, while girls have more internalizing problems such as
anxiety and depression. Moffitt et al. (2001) have studied boys’ and girls’ different reac-
tions to other risk factors such as parental criminality. Yet, they found few differences
between the sexes in the effect of these risk factors, so this explanation of different re-
action patterns seems unlikely.
Finally, the previously mentioned country’s social policies and penal atmosphere can
influence the impact of parental imprisonment. National policies dictate the opportu-
nities for children to visit their parents, the means and frequency of communication
during imprisonment, and the amount of welfare support and social security that such
families receive. Furthermore, both social stigma and official bias might vary between
countries. As mentioned previously, Murray et al. (2007) demonstrated an unfavourable
effect of parental imprisonment on children in England, but found no effect in Sweden.
They speculated that this was caused by differences in national policies and public per-
ceptions of imprisonment and prisoners. This highlights the importance of context,
which can be investigated using cross-national studies of the impact of imprisonment
as this study does for the Netherlands and England.
Hypotheses
The following hypotheses will be studied in this article:
1. Parental imprisonment between the child’s birth and 19th birthday predicts more
criminal behaviour than parental conviction.
2. This relationship is found in England as well as in the Netherlands.
3. This relationship is similar for boys and girls.
4. Maternal imprisonment is more disruptive than paternal imprisonment.
5. Parental imprisonment between birth and 18 predicts more offspring convictions
than parental imprisonment before the birth of the child.
6. The impact of parental imprisonment will be different at different ages of the
child.
4
7. There is a relationship between the frequency and length of parental imprisonment
and offspring convictions (i.e. the more often and/or the longer a parent has been
imprisoned, the more convictions the child will have).
8. Parental imprisonment still predicts offspring convictions after controlling for the
number of parental convictions, for parental violent offending, and for risk factors
for crime.
Method
Samples
We used two prospective longitudina l datasets, o ne from England, one from the Neth-
erlands: the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD) and the NSCR-
Transve study (Transve).
4
Given the paucity of research in this area and theories that predict different effects at all ages, a priori hypotheses about the age at
which parental imprisonment would impact most strongly were not developed.
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The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (England) The CSDD is an extensive sur-
vey of the development of offending and anti-social behaviour that started with 411 boys.
At the time they were first contacted in 1961–62, these males were all living in a working-
class inner-city area of South London. The sample was chosen by taking all the boys who
were then aged eight to nine and on the registers of six state primary schools within
a one-mile radius of a research office that had been established. Hence, the most com-
mon year of birth of these males was 1953. In nearly all cases (94 per cent), their family
breadwinner in 1961–62 (usually the father) had a working-class occupation (skilled,
semi-skilled or unskilled manual worker). Most of the boys were white and of British
origin. The study was originally directed by Donald West and it has been directed since
1982 by David Farrington, who has worked on it since 1969.
The males have been studied at frequent intervals between the ages of eight and 50.
Information about convictions and self-reported delinquency was collected over the
course of these years. Additionally, police records of the parents and siblings of these
411 males have been collected. For more information and major results, see West (1969;
1982), West and Farrington (1973; 1977), Farrington and West (1990), Farrington
(1995; 2003) and Farrington et al. (2006; 2009).
Previously, the effects of parental imprisonment on the 411 original participants (all
male) in the Cambridge Study were investigated by Murray and Farrington (2005; 2008)
and compared with Sweden (Murray et al. 2007). However, the current manuscript is the
first time that results on parental imprisonment for the brothers and sisters of the 411
boys are being reported. Therefore, the present sample also included females. Because
the data collection started with families that had at least one boy born in 1953–54, the
dataset did not contain families with girls only. Therefore, the proportion of males ver-
sus females in the current sample is around 2:1.
Transfive (Netherlands) Data collection in Transfive started with a group of 198 high-risk,
working-class boys (G2), born around 1899 in the Netherlands. These adolescent males
had all been sent to a reform school (Harreveld) between 1911 and 1914. Some were
sent because they exhibited problem behaviour or minor delinquency, others because
their parents could not take proper care of them according to guardian organizations.
Using genealogical and municipal records, all descendents of these men have been
traced, with a retrieval rate of 100 per cent. Conviction data were available for their chil-
dren (G3), grandchildren (G4) and great-grandchildren (G5). Partners were also in-
cluded in the dataset, which enabled analysis of transmission from both parents.
Transfive is directed by Catrien Bijleveld. For more information, see Bijleveld and
Wijkman (2009) and Bijleveld et al. (2007).
For comparison of these datasets, a comparable sample was taken from both: offspring
born between January 1946 and September 1962.
5
Taking this birth range resulted in
a sample of 1,184 subjects in the CSDD (782 males and 402 females) and 804 subjects in
Transfive (412 males and 392 females). In the CSDD, all child subjects came from the
same study generation, being the original men born around 1953 and their siblings. In
Transfive, the original G2 men were born around the same year, but their children and
5
We chose to only include offspring born after the Second World War. In the Netherlands, a famine took place in the winter of
1944–45. We did not want to include children whose mothers suffered from food shortage when they were pregnant. September
1962 was chosen because we wanted conviction data for all subjects until their 40th birthday. The last criminal record search for the
CSDD took place in September 2002.
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grandchildren were born in a wider range of years. Consequently, offspring in the sam-
ple taken for this article came from G3 (N = 48), G4 (N = 740) and G5 (N = 16).
Measures
Predictor variable To examine whether parental imprisonment affected children more
strongly than parental convictions, we compared two mutually exclusive groups
and created a dichotomous variable of parental imprisonment . The first group,
the prisoners’ children group, consisted of children whose parents had been impris-
oned at least once between the c hildren’s birth and their 19th birthday. The second
group, the convicted parents group, consisted of c hildren whose parents were never
imprisoned up to the child’s 19th birthday, also not before birth, but were convicted
between the child’s birth and 19th birthday. In the CSDD, the prisoners’ children
group co nsisted of 143 children, the convicted parents group of 185. In Transfive,
82 children were in the prisoners’ children group and 87 in the convicted parents
group. For hypothesis 7, t wo continuous variables of parental i mprisonment were
used: the number and length of parental imprisonment. Only offspring of priso ners
and of convicted parents were included. This meant that offspring in the convicted
parents group had a value of 0 on t he predictor variable, while the p risoners’ child ren
group varied according to the number of times the parent had been imprisoned or
the length. The maximum length of parental imprisonment offspring experienced
was used so as not to confound this analysis with the previous one t hat looked at
the frequency of parental imprisonment.
Outcome variable The outcome variable was the offspring’s conviction rate, defined as
the number of convictions for crimes committed between the 19th and 40th birthdays.
6
Criminal convictions For the CSDD, convictions and imprisonments were searched in
the central Criminal Record Office in London (see Farrington et al. 1996). We used the
date on which the offence was committed to time the delinquency. Offences were de-
fined as acts leading to convictions, and only one offence per day (the most serious) was
counted. This rule was adopted so that each separate behavioural act could only yield
one offence; if all offences had been counted, the number of offences would have been
greater than the number of criminal behavioural acts, and hence the number of crim-
inal behavioural acts would have been overestimated (Farrington et al. 2006).
For Transfive, conviction information was collected using the computerized, paper
and microfilmed archives of the Dutch Criminal Records Documentation Service (‘ju-
dicial documentation’). These are complete conviction data, apart from the filmed ar-
chive, which may miss some conviction data for those sample members born in the
Almelo ‘arrondissement’ before 1967; this applies to no more than 3 per cent of
respondents in G3 and G4. Registrations that resulted in a conviction were counted.
Acquittals and so-called technical dismissals (dismissals of the case by the public pros-
ecutor because of insufficient evidence and the case being expected to result in acquit-
tal) were not counted. Cases that were never dispositioned, or which resulted in a policy
dismissal (i.e. dismissal of the case because the prosecutor deemed it unfeasible to
6
In this variable, non-offenders are also included. This makes it different from the frequency above the conviction rate. The
variable conviction rate combines a prevalence (ris k) and frequency (intensity) measure for crime.
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prosecute, such as because the perpetrator had already paid damages), were counted, as
they had been registered by the judicial authorities.
For both datasets, we co unted convictions for relatively serious offendi ng, ranging
from theft, burglary, fraud to robber y, sexual offences and murder. Minor offences
such as drunkenness and traf fic offences were excluded. Violent behaviour included
sexual offen ces, insulting or threatening behaviour, robbery, assault, wounding, mur-
der and manslaughter.
7
Weapon offences were also included in the definit ion of vio-
len ce, since Farrington (2001) previously showed with the CSDD that over hal f of those
convicted for possessing an offensive weapon offence also had a conviction for another
violent crime.
Data Analysis
We analysed our data using Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) in SPSS (for
more technical information on GEE, see Lipsitz et al. 1991; Zeger and Liang
1992). Both our samples consisted of siblings, a nd these were clustered within families.
With the clustering of siblings, conventional statistics a re inappropriate, because those
do not take into account the dependen cies between cluster m embers (Ananth et al.
2005). GEE, however, uses this within-cluster similarity. It weights each cluster of data
according to the within-cluster correlation (Hanley et al. 2003). When there is no cor-
relation between family members, the cluster receives a we ight of 1 and cluster mem-
bers are treated as if they were independent s ubjects. Highly correlated siblings
receive a lower weight. With these weights, GEE then analyses the relationships be-
tween the variables consider ing the dependencies within clusters. GEE can deal with
a large number of small clusters and is therefore especially suited for our data with
a large number of families, generally consisting of fewer than ten members (Liang and
Zeger 1993). Within GEE, it is possible to choose different analysis models. We used
negative binomial regre ssion. The dependent variable conviction rate was highly
skewed; many people were never convicted. With such a skewed distribution, it is in-
appropriate to run linear regression analysis. Negative binomial regression suitably
deals with skewed distributions.
Results
Prisoners’ children had more convictions than children whose parents were never con-
victed, in England (mean 2.23 versus 0.35, B = 1.83, p < 0.001) as well as in the Nether-
lands (mean 0.91 versus 0.28, B = 1.17, p = 0.001).
8
As pointed out previously, however, it
is important to distinguish between the impact of parental imprisonment and convic-
tion. The main question of this article, therefore, was whether prisoners’ children dis-
played more criminal behaviour than children whose parents were convicted. Results
from the regression analyses to answer this question are presented in Table 1.
7
This follows the Home Office (UK) and CBS (Statistics Netherlands) standard offence classification of violence (Kalidien and
Eggen 2009: Research Development and Statistics Directorate 1998).
8
In the group of children of non-convicted parents, we excluded five outliers with 36, 51, 59, 61 and 88 convictions, respectively.
Including these outliers yielded a non-significant difference in conviction rate between prisoners’ children and children from non-
convicted parents, while risk analyses demonstrated that prisoners’ children had a significantly higher risk of developing criminal
behaviour than children of non-convicted parents (OR = 1.87, 95% CI = 1.08–3.25).
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In England, prisoners’ sons had significantly more convictions (mean = 3.17) than
sons whose parents were convicted but not imprisoned (mean = 1.63) (B = 0.58, p =
0.049).
9
There was no significant difference for daughters in England. In the Nether-
lands, prisoners’ children had a lower conviction rate than children of convicted
parents, but this difference was not statistically significant. Only the results for English
males support our first hypothesis that parental imprisonment between the child’s birth
and 19th birthday predicts more criminal behaviour than parental conviction in this age
range. The results do not support our second hypothesis that the relationship between
parental imprisonment and offspring is found in England as well as in the Netherlands.
Moderators
As mentioned previously, we were able to study the following moderating variables: off-
spring gender, maternal versus paternal imprisonment, and offspring age at the time of
parental imprisonment. Furthermore, we had information about the times and lengths
of parental imprisonment. We ran the moderating analyses for male and female off-
spring together and separately. None of the moderating analyses for the Netherlands
or for female offspring in England was significant. In discussing the results, we therefore
focus on the analyses for male offspring in England.
Offspring gender We found a significant relationship for sons but not for daughters in
the CSDD. This is not enough evidence to say that there is a difference between males
and females. Therefore, we ran a regression analysis for the CSDD sample of male and
female offspring together where we added the interaction of gender * parental impris-
onment as a predictor. Both gender (B = –0.99, p = 0.018) and whether the parent was
imprisoned or convicted (B = 1.49, p = 0.044) were significant predictors in this analysis,
but the interaction effect was not significant (B = –0.91, p = 0.121). Although the in-
teraction effect was not significant, the large difference between male and female off-
spring shown in Table 1 does suggest that the impact of parental imprisonment is
different for males and females. It is possible that the interaction effect was not signif-
icant primarily because of the small number of females. Although we cannot be abso-
lutely certain, our results suggest that our third hypothesis, that the relationship
between parental imprisonment and offspring offending is similar for boys and girls,
should be rejected.
Maternal versus paternal imprisonment Based on the theories, we expected that maternal
imprisonment would be more strongly related to criminal behaviour than paternal im-
prisonment. We ran separate analyses for children who had their mother versus their
father imprisoned. Children who experienced both paternal and maternal imprison-
ment were excluded from these analyses. Next, children who had their mother
9
We also analysed the original CSDD men and their male siblings separately and looked at prevalence and conviction rate sep-
arately. Male siblings whose parents had been imprisoned offende d significantly more often (mean = 3.29) than male siblings whose
parents had been convicted only (mean = 1.28) (B = 0.92, p = 0.014). This difference was smaller for the original men (prisoners
children’s mean = 3.14 versus mean children from convicted parents = 2.04) and not significant (B = 0.43, p = 0.179). Looking at
prevalence, however, the relationship was much stronger for the original men: 75 per cent of prisoners’ children offended com-
pared to 40 per cent of children of convicted parents, leading to an OR of 4.50 (95% CI = 1.64–12.37). When looking at male siblings
only, 45.2 per cent of prisoners’ children offended compared to 37.7 per cent of children of convicted parents, which results in an
OR of 1.32 (95% CI = 0.60–2.88). This illustrates that the relationship for the original men is driven by a larger difference in prev-
alence and the relationship for the male siblings by a larger difference in conviction rate. Both groups, however, display the same
pattern: prisoners’ children have a higher risk of and exhibit more criminal behaviour than children of convicted parents.
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imprisoned were compared directly with children who had their father imprisoned. The
results are presented in Table 2.
These results show a similar pattern as was visible in Table 1. Although none of the
relationships is significant, the effect sizes are of similar strength. The non-significance is
most likely due to lower numbers in the analyses, especially for mothers. The results
revealed no significant difference between the impact of maternal versus paternal im-
prisonment on children’s offending and therefore do not support our fourth hypothesis
that maternal imprisonment is more disruptive than paternal imprisonment.
Age at parental imprisonment To analyse the influence of age at the time of parental im-
prisonment, four mutually exclusive groups of offspring were compared: sons whose
parents were imprisoned before their birth, between their birth and seventh birthday,
between their seventh and 13th birthdays and between their 13th and 19th birthdays.
10
Each of these groups was compared with sons whose parents were not imprisoned, but
convicted at some point up until the son’s 19th birthday including before birth.
11
The
results are presented in Table 3.
There was no difference in offending between sons of convicted parents and sons
whose parents were imprisoned before birth or between birth and their seventh birth-
day. Sons whose parents had been imprisoned between their seventh and 13th or be-
tween their 13th and 19th birthdays had significantly more convictions than sons whose
parents had been convicted only. We then compared each of these two ‘significant’
groups with each of the two ‘non-significant’ groups. Sons whose parents had been
imprisoned between their seventh and 13th or between their 13th and 19th birthdays
had significantly more convictions than sons whose parents had been imprisoned before
their birth or between their birth and seventh birthday. Furthermore, sons whose
parents were imprisoned between their 13th and 19th birthdays had significantly more
convictions than sons whose parents had been imprisoned between their seventh and
13th birthday. These results suggest that parental imprisonment has a larger impact on
sons’ offending behaviour when sons experience this at an older age. Parental impris-
onment before the seventh birthday did not predict more convictions than parental
conviction. These results support hypothesis 5 that parental imprisonment between
birth and 18 predicts more offspring offending than parental imprisonment before
the child’s birth. Additionally, the results support hypothesis 6, stating that the impact
of parental imprisonment will be different at different ages of the child.
Number of parental imprisonments Next, we regressed sons’ conviction rate on the num-
ber of times the parent had been imprisoned between the son’s birth and 19th birthday.
The results are presented in Table 4.
10
The age cut-off points were chosen to create groups with a similar age interval. First, children who experienced parental impris-
onment in more than one age range were excluded from the analyses to clearly compare parental imprisonment in different age peri-
ods. After running these first analyses, in the next analyses these children were added to the age group in which their parent was last
imprisoned. For example, the group of children who experienced parental imprisonment between ages 13 and 18 could possibly have
had their parent imprisoned before age 13 as well and so on for the other two groups. Doing this increased the group size. The results
were similar, apart from two comparisons. When comparing ‘clear groups, parental imprisonment between ages seven and 12 was not
significantly different from parental imprisonment between birth and age 6 (B = 0.653, p = 0.173) or ages 13–18 (B = 0.490, p = 0.222).
11
This control group was different from the control group in the other analyses (in Tables 1, 2 and 4–7) because it also included
offspring whose parents were convicted before their birth. This group was chosen for the analyses in Table 3 because we also com-
pared with offspring whose parents were imprisoned before their birth. Conversely, in the other analyses, we only looked at parental
imprisonment and conviction after the child’s birth.
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The more often a parent had been imprisoned, the more convictions the son had (see
Figure 1). The regression coefficient in this relationship was significant (B = 0.29, p <
0.001). This result, however, could be explained by the fact that parents who had been
imprisoned more often had more convictions (B = 0.20, p = 0.002).
12
The amount of
parental criminality rather than the number of parental imprisonments would then ex-
plain offspring offending. Therefore, we ran the regression analyses again and added
the number of parental convictions as a predictor. After doing this, the number of pa-
rental imprisonments was still significantly related to sons’ conviction rate (B = 0.29, p =
0.007). These results suggest that the more often children experienced parental impris-
onment, the larger the impact.
Length of parental imprisonment Then, we analysed a relationship between the length of
parental imprisonment and sons’ conviction rate. Table 4 shows that there was a signif-
icant relationship between the length of parental imprisonment and a son’s conviction
rate, also when controlling for the number of parental convictions. These results sup-
port hypothesis 7, stating that there is a relationship between frequency and length of
parental imprisonment and offspring offending.
TABLE 1 Parental imprisonment and parental conviction versus offspring conviction rate: England and the
Netherlands
PC when offspring 0–18 PI when offspring 0–18
n Offspring CR 19–40 N Offspring CR 19–40 B 95% CI B Sig.
England all 185 1.32 143 2.23 0.47 –0.08–1.01 0.095
EN sons 126 1.63 92 3.17 0.58 0.01–1.16 0.049*
EN daughters 59 0.66 51 0.53 –0.24 –1.26–0.78 0.642
Netherlands all 87 1.16 82 0.91 –0.24 –1.03–0.56 0.557
NL sons 38 2.26 34 1.50 –0.38 –1.15–0.40 0.340
NL daughters 49 0.31 48 0.50 0.48 –1.21–2.17 0.578
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment; CR, conviction
rate.
TABLE 2 Impact of paternal versus maternal imprisonment on offspring offending: England
PaC PaI MaC MaI Pac–PaI Mac–MaI PaI–MaI
Son 0–18
N 89 74 51 12 B 0.65 0.52 0.01
Offspring CR 19–40 1.60 3.20 1.65 3.17 95% CI B –0.03–1.33 –0.72–0.67 –1.18–1.19
(sig) (0.060) (0.412) (0.997)
Daughter 0–18
N 48 38 22 6 B –0.40 –0.26 –0.59
Offspring CR 19–40 0.81 0.55 1.32 1.00 95% CI B –1.44–0.63 –1.77–1.26 –2.00–0.82
(sig.) (0.446) (0.739) (0.410)
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PaC, paternal conviction; PaI, paternal imprisonment; MaC, maternal
conviction; MaI, Maternal Imprisonment; CR, conviction rate.
12
This was analysed separately and is not presented in Table 4.
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Multivariate regression analyses Next, we ran multivariate regression analyses to check for
confounding factors and a possible counterbalancing effect. As discussed previously,
unfavourable impacts of parental imprisonment might be counterbalanced by
TABLE 3 Son’s age at parental imprisonment and sons’ conviction rate: England
PC up to son
18
Parental imprisonment
Up to son 18 Before birth Son 0–6 Son 7–12 Son 13–18
N 173 130 38 35 28 29
Son CR
19–40
1.62 2.55 1.05 1.06 3.04 5.86
B
95% CI B
(sig.)
Reference
group
0.44
–0.08–0.96
(0.095)
–0.54
–1.30–0.21
(0.159)
–0.41
–1.04–0.23
(0.212)
0.67*
0.04–1.29
(0.037)
1.25*
0.66–1.85
(0.001)
PI son
7–12
B
95% CI B
(sig.)
1.24*
0.37–2.10
(0.005)
1.05*
0.31–1.80
(0.006)
PI son
13–18
B
95% CI B
(sig.)
1.83*
0.98–2.67
(0.001)
1.59*
0.94–2.25
(0.001)
0.56*
0.02–1.09
(0.040)
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment; CR, conviction
rate.
FIG. 1 Number of parental imprisonments and sons’ conviction rate at ages 19–40: England.
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favourable impacts such as decreased exposure to a criminal parent. If this were true, we
would expect to find that children of violent parents especially ‘benefited’ from parental
imprisonment: while children of burglars need not be exposed to the offending behav-
iour of their parents, parents who commit violent offences may be expected to—on
TABLE 4 Number and length of parental imprisonment: England
Prediction of son’s conviction rate 19–40
Variable B 95% CI B Sig.
Step 1 number PI
Number of PI when son 0–18 0.29 0.13–0.45 0.001*
Step 2 number PI
Number of PI when son 0–18 0.29 0.08 0.49 0.007*
Number of PC when son 0–18 0.01 –0.10–0.11 0.915
Step 1 length PI
(maximum) length of PI when son 0–18 0.05 0.03–0.07 0.001*
Step 2 length PI
(maximum) length of PI when son 0–18 0.05 0.02–0.07 0.001*
Number of PC when son 0–18 0.03 –0.06–0.12 0.574
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment.
TABLE 5 Parental imprisonment and parental conviction for violent and non-violent parents versus sons’
conviction rate: England
PC when offspring 0–18 PI when offspring 0–18
n Offspring conviction rate 19–40 n Offspring conviction rate 19–40
Violent parents 11 0 27 2.56
Non-violent parents 115 1.78 65 3.43
PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment.
TABLE 6 Multivariate regression analyses predicting sons’ conviction rate by parental imprisonment controlling
for parental convictions and violence: England
Prediction of son’s conviction rate 19–40
Variable B 95% CI B Sig.
Step 1 main analysis (Table 1)
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.58 0.01–1.16 0.049*
Step 2 parental violence
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.74 0.18–1.29 0.009*
PV when son 0–18
13
–0.67 –1.46–0.13 0.099
Step 3 parental violence
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.62 0.03–1.21 0.038*
Number of PV when son 0–18 –0.06 –0.028–0.15 0.561
Step 4 parental convictions
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.36 –0.23–0.95 0.228
Number of PC when son 0–18 0.10 –0.01–0.95 0.082
Step 5 interaction
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.38 –0.50–1.26 0.392
Number of PC when son 0–18 0.11 –0.27–0.49 0.569
PI vs. PC number of PC –0.02 –0.41–0.37 0.935
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment; PV, parental
violent conviction.
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average—also be aggressive in the home. We therefore wanted to test whether the re-
lationship between parental imprisonment and offspring offending was different for
violent and non-violent parents. Unfortunately, it was not possible to test this interaction
in a regression analysis in GEE, because violent parents who had not been to prison did
not have convicted children. Looking at the mean conviction rates for these children
(Table 5), however, there does not seem to be such an interaction effect. Children of
violent as well as non-violent parents who had been to prison had more convictions than
children whose parents had not been imprisoned.
In addition, we included parental violence and the number of parental convictions in
the regression models to investigate the impact of parental imprisonment over and
above these possible confounders. First, a dichotomous variable was used of whether
the parent had been convicted of a violent offence between the son’s birth and 19th
birthday. Second, a variable for the number of parental violent convictions in this period
was used. The results are presented in Table 6. Step 1 repeats values from the main anal-
ysis in Table 1 where offspring offending was regressed on the dichotomous variable of
parental imprisonment. Steps 2 and 3 present values when parental violence was added.
Adding parental violence to the regression analysis does not remove the significant re-
lationship between parental imprisonment and sons’ conviction rate.
As mentioned previously, imprisoned parents had significantly more convictions than
parents who were convicted but not imprisoned. It is important to control for this to
ensure that the difference between parental imprisonment and convictions should
not be explained by the amount of parental criminality. Above, we controlled for pa-
rental criminality in the relationships where parental imprisonment was measured con-
tinuously, but we did not control for this in the main analysis in which parental
imprisonment was measured dichotomously. We therefore ran a multivariate regression
analysis with the dichotomous variable of parental imprisonment and the number of
parental convictions as predictor variables. Step 4 in Table 6 shows that adding the num-
ber of parental convictions removes the significant relationship between the dichoto-
mous variable of parental imprisonment and sons’ conviction rate. It seems that the
relationship between parental imprisonment and offspring offending can be partly
explained by parental criminality. However, as shown previously in Table 4, a relationship
remained between the number of parental imprisonments and offspring offending
when we controlled for the number of parental convictions. This shows that the con-
tinuous variable for parental imprisonment predicts offspring offending better than
the dichotomous variable.
Next, we controlled for several variables known to be risk factors for criminal behav-
iour (Farrington and Painter 2004). We first investigated which risk factors were signif-
icantly related to our outcome variable: conviction rate between the 19th and 40th
birthdays. The following seven variables were significant predictors of sons’ conviction
rate: low family SES, low family income, large family size, teen mother at birth of first
child, parental conflict, parents’ interest in education, and poor job record of father (for
more details on how these were measured, see Farrington and Painter 2004). Previous
research showed a cumulative effect of multiple risk factors; the more risk factors, the
more problem behaviour (Farrington et al. 2009; Loeber et al. 1998). Furthermore, the
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seven variables correlated with each other. Therefore, these risk factors were summa-
rized by taking the mean value. Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was 0.65. The scale con-
sisted of only seven items and each one was measured dichotomously, which could have
resulted in an alpha of just below 0.7. We included this risk factor mean in a regression
analysis with the dichotomous as well as with the continuous variable of parental impris-
onment. The results are presented in Table 7.
Adding the risk factors removed the significant relationship between the dichotomous
variable of parental imprisonment and sons’ conviction rate. However, the relationship
between the number of parental imprisonments and sons’ conviction rate remained
when risk factors were added. Again, the continuous variable for parental imprisonment
predicts offspring offending better than the dichotomous variable. Even when both the
number of parental convictions and risk factors were added as predictors (step 3 in Table
7), the number of parental imprisonments remained a significant predictor of sons’
conviction rate.
Our results support hypothesis 8 that parental imprisonment still predicts offspring
offending after controlling for the number of parental convictions, for parental violent
offending and for other risk factors.
Discussion
This study investigated the relationship between parental imprisonment and offspring
offending in England and the Netherlands using prospective longitudinal data from the
Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and the NSCR Transfive Study. In the
Netherlands, we found no significant relationship between parental imprisonment
and offspring offending. In England, we only found a significant relationship between
parental imprisonment and offspring offending for sons. The relationship between the
number of parental imprisonments and sons’ conviction rate remained significant when
we controlled for the number of parental convictions, parental violence and risk factors
TABLE 7 Multivariate regression analyses predicting sons’ conviction rate by parental imprisonment controlling
for risk factors: England
Prediction of sons’ conviction rate 19–40
Variable B 95% CI B Sig.
Dichotomous variable PI
Step 1 PI vs. PC (Table 1)
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.58 0.01–1.16 0.049*
Step 2 PI vs. PC
PI vs. PC when son 0–18 0.44 –0.22–1.10 0.195
Risk factors 1.13 0.25–2.02 0.012*
Continuous variable PI
Step 1 number PI (Table 4)
Number of PI when son 0–18 0.29 0.13–0.45 0.001*
Step 2 number PI
Number of PI when son 0–18 0.26 0.06–0.46 0.010*
Risk factors 1.09 0.29–1.89 0.008*
Step 3 number PI
Number of PI when son 0–18 0.28 0.05–0.52 0.018*
Number of PC when son 0–18 –0.02 –0.13–0.09 0.725
Risk factors 1.11 0.30–1.92 0.007*
*p < 0.05; 95% CI, 95% confidence interval; PC, parental conviction; PI, parental imprisonment.
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for crime. We found no difference between paternal and maternal imprisonment, pa-
rental imprisonment was only significantly related to son’s offending when the son ex-
perienced this after the seventh birthday, and the more often and longer a son
experienced parental imprisonment, the more often he offended. Furthermore, it
seems that the relationship between parental imprisonment and sons’ offending can
be partly explained by parental criminality.
These are surprising results. Why did we find no significant relationships in the Neth-
erlands and only for boys in England, while many previous studies led us to expect that
we would find an effect in both countries? An explanation is that few previous studies
investigated differences between parental imprisonment and parental conviction. To
look at the net impact of imprisonment, over and above the impact of convictions,
the analyses need to be designed in the way that we did them. Our analyses illustrate
that, in fact, it may have been the impact of frequent parental conviction, rather than
parental imprisonment, that generated the findings in these previous studies.
Second, why were the few effects we found mostly in England, but not in the Nether-
lands? In the introduction, we described several possible explanations for the relation-
ship between parental imprisonment and children’s offending. Some of these factors
will be similar in England and the Netherlands, such as the possibility that prisoners are
the most criminal parents, and the trauma and social strain that children experience
when their parent is incarcerated. Other mechanisms, however, will not be the same,
because the situation in the two countries was different. Dutch prisons were far more
humane than English ones in the period during which our subjects experienced paren-
tal imprisonment (1946–81). Dutch prisoners had considerably more opportunities for
contact with their children. Not only were prisons more humane, but penal policy in
general focused much more on resocialization in the Netherlands and on punishment
in England. The social stigma for prisoners’ children might have been a bigger problem
in England than in the Netherlands, which could have led to more problem behaviour
and adult offending in these children. In the Netherlands, up until the beginning of the
1970s, a large proportion of the people who were imprisoned were sentenced for drunk
driving and received relatively short sentences (two to three weeks). As a result, impris-
onment might have been associated less with social stigma in the Netherlands.
An example of the strong influence of penal and political environment on reactions
to crime and stigma is described by Green (2008a; 2008b), who studied this in relation to
the subject of child-on-child homicide. He compared the English and Norwegian crim-
inal justice systems and public’s response to the cases of James Bulger and Silje Reder-
gard. In Norway, the young killers were shielded from the public and carefully
reintegrated into the community because it was believed that this was a tragic one-
off accident, while in England, James Bulger’s killers experienced extreme press and
public antagonism. In England, harsh public attitudes created great stigma for these
young people. Similarly, greater public stigma might affect children of imprisoned
parents in England than in other countries. Green shows how stigmatization can differ
vastly according to the penal and political environment.
In addition, we expect that the children of Dutch prisoners experienced less eco-
nomic strain, because the Netherlands had a more generous social security system than
England (Dixon 1998; Kaim-Caudle 1973). Prisoners’ families in England often expe-
rienced a ‘considerable reduction in income, and in some cases acute poverty’ (Morris
1965: 293). This is not to say that prisoners’ families in the Netherlands did not have
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economic problems, but the ‘generous welfare state’ might have softened the economic
strain a bit (Downes and van Swaaningen 2007: 38). Furthermore, prison sentences in
England were considerably longer than in the Netherlands and our results demon-
strated a relationship between the length of parental imprisonment and offspring
offending (Downes 1992).
We only looked at offspring offending after the 19th birthday, because we wanted pa-
rental imprisonment to precede offspring offending. This does mean, however, that we
miss a large part of offspring offending, since the prevalence of offending peaks in the
teenage years (Blumstein et al. 1986; Farrington 1986; Piquero et al. 2007). This could
possibly explain why we found a relationship in England, but not in the Netherlands. It
could be that prisoners’ children in the Netherlands desisted after adolescence, while in
England, they continued offending. A possible difference in desistance after adoles-
cence could be linked to variation in class distinctions between the two countries. In
England, geographical and cultural class boundaries were—and are—much more pro-
nounced than in the Netherlands, where birth class has a much weaker forecasting effect
on children’s life-path (Blanden et al. 2005; Breen 2004; Musterd 2005). Although re-
search on the relationship between social class and crime produces inconsistent results
and one could argue that people from higher social classes might commit different
offences not always measured in crime studies, research in the United Kingdom dem-
onstrates that people from a lower social class offend more often (Braithwaite 1981;
Farrington and Welsh 2007; Wadsworth 1979). The impact of parental imprisonment
in the Netherlands might have evaporated after adolescence because people were able
to ‘escape’ the lower-class environment, while in England, parental imprisonment and
associated factors may have sustained risk factors for crime further in life because they
are much more connected to social and cultural class factors. We were unable to exam-
ine this and cannot be certain that this happened, but this could be a possible expla-
nation for the difference between England and the Netherlands.
Third, we found a relationship between parental imprisonment and the offending of
sons, not of daughters. This is in line with the possibility that boys and girls react dif-
ferently to stressful life events, with boys showing externalizing problem behaviour in-
cluding criminal behaviour while girls have more internalizing problems (Murray and
Farrington 2008). Another possible explanation for this gender difference could be that
behaviour is more strongly transmitted in same-gender relationships (Farrington et al.
1996). However, our results revealed no difference between the impact of paternal and
maternal imprisonment on sons or daughters and therefore do not support the idea of
stronger same-gender transmission. It is also possible that relationships for girls were not
significant, because of lower numbers of girls and mothers who were convicted and
imprisoned.
Fourth, it is interesting to see that parental imprisonment between offspring ages
seven and 18 is more strongly related to sons’ offending than parental imprisonment
before that age. This does not support Bowlby’s attachment theory, stating that separa-
tion from a parent in the first few years of life will cause attachment problems and sub-
sequent behaviour problems, including offending behaviour. The finding that parental
imprisonment impacts more strongly on older children is consistent with the previously
mentioned stigma that these older children have to deal with, that we would expect to be
stronger in England.
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Analyses comparing parental imprisonment before and after birth can be used as
a way of controlling for unmeasured variance. Many factors could influence the relation-
ship between parental imprisonment and offspring offending. A way to control for these
influences is to compare children whose parents were imprisoned before and after their
birth. These two groups both have parents that were imprisoned at some point, so as-
sociated risk factors should be comparable. The only known difference here is the actual
exposure of the child to the parent’s imprisonment. By comparing these two groups,
confounding factors were held constant. Sons whose parents were imprisoned after
birth had a significantly higher conviction rate than sons whose parents were impris-
oned before birth. This suggests that the actual exposure to the parent’s imprisonment
was important in the relationship between parental imprisonment and a son’s offending
behaviour. However, there might be other differences between these two groups of
parents that could account for the differences in offspring offending, such as the pos-
sibility that parents who were imprisoned only before their child’s birth might have ex-
perienced parenthood or marriage preceding parenthood as a ‘turning point’ towards
a less active criminal career (Sampson and Laub 2005; Theobald and Farrington 2009).
Nevertheless, the finding that offspring offending increased with the length and the
number of times parents had been imprisoned also suggests that the actual event of
parental imprisonment impacts children and the more often this happens and the lon-
ger the event, the larger the impact on children.
Finally, we found that the difference between prisoners’ children and children of con-
victed parents disappeared when we controlled for the number of parental convictions
and several risk factors for crime. However, the relationships for length and number of
parental imprisonments and offspring offending were robust and did not disappear
when controlling for the number of parental convictions and for risk factors. This shows
a clear impact of parental imprisonment on boys’ offending, over and above the pre-
dictive effect of parental conviction and other risk factors.
This research undoubtedly has limitations and several other interpretations of the
results should be considered. Our sample is relatively small, especially for females. This
led to non-significant results where the effect size showed an effect. A larger sample might
have shown more significant results. Furthermore, this is a quantitative study and, in that
sense, we have simplified a complex reality to a few variables. As Ezinga et al. (2009) have
demonstrated, prisoners’ children experience manifold and intricate problems. It is dif-
ficult to investigate the processes through which children may be positively or negatively
affected by a parents imprisonment through quantitative research only. Much more re-
search, and also more qualitative research, is needed to understand these processes.
In addition, we were unable to investigate genetic mechanisms of intergenerational
transmission and the influence of this on the relationship between parental imprison-
ment and offspring offending. Adoption and twin studies, or direct investigation of ge-
netic factors, would be needed to examine this.
Furthermore, we were not sure that subjects who experienced parental imprisonment
were not permanently separated from their parents before the event. Murray and
Farrington (2005) knew this when they studied the original CSDD men, but we did
not have this information for the siblings used in this study. We can only assume that
this information is similar for siblings older than the original men. In Transfive, we did
have information about divorces and ran analyses corrected and uncorrected for di-
vorce, but the results were the same.
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We tested whether parental imprisonment still predicted offspring offending after
controlling for the number of parental convictions. This reduced the relationship be-
tween parental imprisonment and offspring offending and we concluded that parental
offending plays a large role in this association. However, controlling for parental con-
victions in this way might have resulted in underestimating the impact of parental im-
prisonment on children. We did not pay attention to whether parental imprisonment or
parental convictions came first. An alternative explanation could be that parental im-
prisonment causes worse parental criminal behaviour (Nieuwbeerta et al. 2009; Wer-
mink et al. 2009), which, in turn, causes more child crime.
Nevertheless, this is the first comparative study of parental imprisonment and off-
spring offending in the Netherlands and England. For both countries, we had at our
disposal longitudinal prospective datasets that followed high-risk groups for a long time.
Such datasets are rare, and in that sense, the comparison is unique. Through our design,
we ruled out method disparities, and because parental imprisonment always occurred
before offending by the child, we were sure that causes and effects could not be con-
fused. Also, because we compared prisoners’ children with children whose parents were
convicted but not imprisoned, we studied the additional impact of parental imprison-
ment. This is an improvement on earlier studies into the impact of parental imprison-
ment on children’s behaviour.
What do our results mean for policy makers? The relationship between parental im-
prisonment and offspring offending differs considerably between the Netherlands and
England. We cannot be certain, but a likely explanation for this is the previously de-
scribed difference in the penal landscape. Today, the penal landscape in both countries
has become more punitive, with higher imprisonment rates, longer sentences, more
women being imprisoned than before, and more drug offenders being prosecuted.
The current results are not easily generalizable to today’s situation. Yet, with today’s
more punitive landscape and the ‘reinvention of the prison’ (Garland 2001: 14), this
topic is even more relevant today, because more children experience parental impris-
onment. Policy makers could design crime prevention programmes specifically targeted
at families in which a parent has been sent to prison. They could expand opportunities
for contact between prisoners and their children, through special children’s visits, af-
fordable phone calls, schemes to record and playback stories and messages. They could
offer financial support for prisoners’ families. Social support organizations should
especially pay attention to older children and adolescents who experience parental
imprisonment. Moreover, children who experience many and longer parental imprison-
ments should be especially targeted for support.
It is important to investigate the relationship between parental imprisonment and
offspring offending in today’s more punitive societies. Since we do not know how pa-
rental imprisonment affects today’s children, it would be good to closely monitor and
study children whose parents are currently imprisoned. It would be especially interest-
ing to examine this topic in the United States—an exceptionally punitive society, where
the number of children with a parent in prison is enormous. Factors such as the oppor-
tunities for contact and visits and the amount of economic strain should be studied in
a (quasi-)experimental design, wherever ethically possible. Killias et al. (2000) compared
the effect of community services versus imprisonment on subsequent offending behav-
iour in an experimental design. Similarly, it would be good to randomly assign convicted
people to imprisonment or community service and investigate their children’s
BESEMER ET AL.
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at University of California, Berkeley on February 22, 2013http://bjc.oxfordjournals.org/Downloaded from
offending behaviour. Furthermore, it would be good to investigate parental imprison-
ment in more cross-national studies. Finally, though, it is important to investigate these
issues in longitudinal studies including knowledge about the situation before parental
imprisonment, as explained by Murray and Murray (2010).
Funding
Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22–2311); Stichting Pro Musis; Hes-
seveld Stichting; Broederscongregatie Onze Lieve Vrouw van Zeven Smarten; Aloysius
Stichting; Expertisecentrum Rechtshandhaving Ministry of Justice the Netherlands; the
Gates Cambridge Trust to S.B.; Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds to S.B.; and VSBfonds to
S.B. Data collection for the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development were funded
by the Home Office.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank Bert Berghuis, Jaap de Waard, Jan Fiselier, the IoC
Writing Group as well as the two anonymous BJC reviewers for their helpful comments
on earlier drafts of this paper. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009
Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Philadelphia.
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Objectives This study estimates the causal effect of paternal incarceration on children’s educational outcomes measured at the end of compulsory schooling (9th grade) in Denmark. Methods I use Danish administrative data and rely on a sentencing reform in 2000, which expanded the use of non-custodial alternatives to incarceration for traffic offenders, for plausibly exogenous variation in the risk of experiencing paternal incarceration. Results The results show that paternal incarceration does not affect academic achievement (grade point average), but that it does reduce the number of grades obtained, and–most importantly–roughly doubles the risk of not even completing compulsory school and getting a 9th grade certificate. These findings are driven mainly by boys for whom paternal incarceration appear to be particularly consequential. Conclusions The findings presented in this study highlight the presence of unintended and collateral consequences of penal policies–even in the context of a relatively mild penal regime. Effects are, however, estimated for a subgroup of Danish children experiencing paternal incarceration, and how results translate to other subgroups and beyond the Danish context is open for speculation.
Book
“Incarceration and Generation is the result of a truly international and interdisciplinary cooperation, with a broad comparative scope, pluralist in methodology, and strongly motivated by the commitment of contributing to the effectiveness of human rights in situations of detention.” – Pierre Guibentif, Université Paris-Saclay, France “Not quite life-course criminology, not quite family studies, this treatment of “generation” and incarceration covers children's issues, parenting, intergenerational transmission, age and aging, and other topics relevant to our movement through the life cycle and through history. Readers will appreciate the blend of conceptual, quantitative, and qualitative work, the diversity in geographic representation, and the coverage of both timeless problems and current events.” – Sonja E. Siennick, Florida State University, USA This two-volume, edited collection lays the groundwork for an international exploration of incarceration and generation, covering a range of geographic, judicial and administrative contexts of incarceration from contributors across a range of subjects. Volume II examines intergenerational relations issues within contexts of incarceration. It focuses on the intergenerational continuities in imprisonment; intergenerational justice and citizenship; the impacts of incarceration on multiple generations and within families; and media representations of the intergenerationality of incarceration. Volume I explores an array of experiences, dynamics, cultures, interventions, and impacts of incarceration in different generations. This collection speaks to academics in criminology, sociology, psychology, and law, and to practitioners and policymakers interested in incarceration. Silvia Gomes is Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), UK, and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA), Portugal, and at the Critical Crimininology Research Group at NTU, UK. Maria João Leote de Carvalho is researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA), School of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (NOVA FCSH), Portugal. Vera Duarte is Assistant Professor at University of Maia (ISMAI) and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA), Portugal.
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In this chapter, I explore how imprisoned men manage and reflect upon fatherhood. Drawing upon nineteen interviews with Portuguese prisoners, I explore the points of connection and detachment between the representations and practices conveyed by the dominant fatherhood ideology and those enacted by fathers in prison. An in-depth analysis of narratives outlines the challenges and tensions felt by imprisoned men in terms of childcare practices, economic provision, and sustaining the father’s identity in a context characterized by imposed separation, penal restrictions, and scarcity of resources. Imprisoned fathers also reflect upon the potential intergenerational impacts of incarceration on their children and describe their attempts to (re)construct the interface between presence and absence within the prison context.
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Many children have parents who serve prison time. Various theories suggest either positive or negative intergenerational effect of incarceration, making this an empirical question. A large correlational literature generally finds negative criminal, behavioral, academic, and health effects for the child. These results are unlikely to capture causal effects due to correlated unobservables. An emerging literature using panel data and quasi-experimental methods finds mixed results, with some evidence that parental incarceration is actually beneficial for a child. Additional rigorous and compelling causal evidence is required to fully measure the intergenerational effects of incarceration.
Article
Household member incarceration has only increased in prevalence due to the era of mass incarceration; however prior studies have focused exclusively on the impacts of parental imprisonment. In an effort to expand the literature, the current study examines (1) whether having a household family member incarcerated leads to within-individual changes in offending and substance use over time and (2) whether these effects vary according to the type of family member who was incarcerated. Using the Pathways to Desistance Study, fixed effects negative binomial and Poisson regression models were performed on the sample of justice-involved adolescents and young adults. The findings demonstrate that experiencing any type of household member incarceration increases offending, drug use, and binge drinking behaviors. Moreover, a sibling incarceration effect was found in which experiencing sibling incarceration increased offending, drug use, and binge drinking behaviors. Additional findings and implications are discussed.
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Researchers have only begun to explore the far-reaching effects of imprisonment beyond prison walls. Unintended consequences highlighted so far include: the social disorganisation of communities (Clear et al 2001); reduced job opportunities for ex-prisoners (Holzer et al 2004); diversion of funds away from schools and universities (Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999); and psychological and financial burdens on families. Families are an important influence on many aspects of prisoners’ lives. Family and parenting variables are key predictors of criminal behaviour through the life-course (Farrington 2002; Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber 1986). Loss of outside relationships is considered the most painful aspect of confinement for prisoners (Flanagan 1980; Richards 1978). Family contact is associated with lower rates of selfharm while inside prison (Harvey, this volume; Liebling 1992). Families are one of the most important factors affecting prisoners’ rehabilitation after release (Social Exclusion Unit 2002). Unfortunately, prisoners’ families have been little studied in their own right. The effects of imprisonment on families and children of prisoners are almost entirely neglected in academic research, prison statistics, public policy and media coverage. However, we can infer from prisoners’ backgrounds that their families are a highly vulnerable group. Limited research to date suggests that imprisonment can have devastating consequences for partners and children. As such, issues of legitimacy
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In the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, 411 males have been followed up from age 8 to age 50, in repeated personal interviews and criminal record searches. At age 48, 93 % of males were interviewed, and 41 % of males were convicted up to age 50. There were 39 self-reported offences for every conviction, on average. This article summarizes criminal careers, childhood risk factors at age 8-10, and adult life success outcomes at age 48. Males who desisted from offending before age 21 were similar to unconvicted males in their life success at age 48. These results suggest that crime can be reduced by interventions that target early childhood risk factors.
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The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development is a prospective longitudinal survey of crime and delinquency in 411 males, mostly born in 1953. The Study began in 1961–62, when most of the boys were aged 8–9. The major results obtained so far can be found in four books1) and over 60 published articles listed at the end of this paper. The Study was originally directed by Donald J. West, and it is now directed by David P. Farrington, who has worked on it since 1969. This paper initially describes the Study and past results obtained in it, and then summarizes the most recent results emerging from the latest interviews with the males at age 32.
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This 2007 book examines several contentious and under-studied criminal career issues using one of the world's most important longitudinal studies, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD), a longitudinal study of 411 South London boys followed in criminal records to age 40. The analysis reported in the book explores issues related to prevalence, offending frequency, specialization, onset sequences, co-offending, chronicity, career length, and trajectory estimation. The results of the study are considered in the context of developmental/life-course theories, and the authors outline an agenda for criminal career research generally, and within the context of the CSDD specifically. © Alex R. Piquero, David P. Farrington, Alfred Blumstein 2007 and Cambridge University Press, 2009.