A New Look at Paternal Incarceration and Delinquency

Lauren Porter, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY)
Ryan King, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY)

Research on the association between paternal incarceration and child wellbeing has gained considerable momentum during the past decade. Much work in this vein finds that children who have had a parent incarcerated are at higher risk of delinquent involvement and other forms of antisocial behavior. Yet there are reasons to question whether this association is in fact causal, and research that empirically pins down mechanisms that account for any observed association is in high demand. The present research examines the association between having a father incarcerated and expressive and instrumental forms of delinquency using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We attempt to better account for unobservable heterogeneity by taking advantage of the longitudinal nature of the data and using children with fathers who will be incarcerated as a strategic comparison group. Results suggest that the association between paternal incarceration and instrumental forms of crime (e.g., theft) is spurious, although paternal incarceration retains a significant effect on expressive crimes (e.g., destruction of property; fighting). We discuss the implications for explanatory models as well as the advantages of using ‘future inmates’ as a viable comparison group.

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Presented in Session 125: Incarceration and Demographic Implications