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November 6, 2006 - 12:00am
Marriott Bethesda North Hotel, Bethesda, Maryland

Welcome and Overview

Recent estimates suggest that 3.7 million parents are under some form of correctional supervision. Approximately 1.1 million are incarcerated in Federal, State, and local jails and are parents to an estimated 2.4 million children. Children with parents in the criminal justice system are a highly vulnerable population. They have an increased risk earlier in life for difficulties with emotional, behavioral, and psychological development and later in life for other health and behavioral problems, including drug abuse and antisocial behavior. This NIDA–sponsored meeting brought together experts on drug abuse, child development, the criminal justice system, and health disparities to examine the state of the science regarding this population. Important issues, such as child development, drug abuse, health disparities, and gender were integrated throughout the meeting. The goals of the meeting were to: 1) develop an empirically–based 'picture' of these children and their families in order to understand the issues confronting them; 2) examine family and child functioning and their effect on developmental trajectories to determine potential targets for intervention; 3) review the efficacy and effectiveness of existing theory–based prevention interventions for these children and their families; 4) summarize important accomplishments in understanding this underserved population and in developing interventions to prevent drug abuse and related problems among them; and 5) identify gaps in the research and determine next steps in the development of a research agenda.

Epidemiology and Overview of the Issue

Parents Under Correctional Supervision: National Statistics

Christopher J. Mumola, M.P.A. 

Researchers have encountered many difficulties in measuring the number of parents under correctional supervision. Correctional agencies generally do not maintain data on parental status in their offender records, and the agencies serving affected children (e.g., public schools, child welfare agencies) often do not have a way to identify children with incarcerated parents. Given these limitations, the only national measure of this issue has come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) national surveys of criminal offenders. Data from these personal-interview surveys were presented in the BJS Special Report, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, which will soon be updated with findings from a new round of prison and jail inmate surveys. In this session, the national estimates provided by these surveys will be discussed, as will the personal and criminal backgrounds of these parents. Special attention will be paid to the mental health and substance abuse histories of these incarcerated parents.

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Overview of the Issue: Parents in the Criminal Justice System and its Impact on Children and Families

Amy L. Solomon, M.P.P., and Janine M. Zweig, Ph.D. 

The American criminal justice system touches the lives of many children and adolescents. Incarceration rates in the United States have increased over the past 20 years, affecting record numbers, including many minor children who are left behind when their parents are sent to prison. A total of 2 percent of all minor children (approximately 7 percent of African-American children) have a parent in prison. When minor children of parents under community supervision are added to this number, a total of 10 percent of children and adolescents—more than 7 million—have parents in jail or prison or on probation or parole.

This large-scale involvement in the criminal justice system disrupts parent-child relationships, alters the networks of familial support, and places additional burdens on governmental services such as schools, foster care, adoption agencies, and youth-serving organizations. The implications of parental contact with the criminal justice system on families and children are not fully understood. This presentation will provide an overview of parents in the criminal justice system (particularly in U.S. prisons and jails) and the domains of impact on children and families.

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Criminal Justice, Drug Abuse, HIV, and Health Disparities: Implications for Children

Torrance Stephens, Ph.D.

Because of the HIV risk behaviors of substance abusers, particularly those who have been incarcerated or are part of the criminal justice system, both service delivery and community problems have developed that negatively affect children. The objective of this presentation is to demonstrate the impact of the criminal justice system on racial and ethnic minority communities. Specifically, the impact of the criminal justice system on health disparities in HIV rates, health outcomes, and other problem behaviors will be detailed, highlighting the negative consequences for families and children in these communities. In addition, we will evaluate how the aforementioned issue contributes to racial and ethnic disparities with regard to the overall health of children. Of importance is how these issues contribute to negative health outcomes for youth regardless of whether they are involved in the criminal justice system.

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Family and Child Functioning: Potential Targets for Intervention

Prisoners and their Families: Parenting Issues During Incarceration

Creasie Finney Hairston, Ph.D.

Incarceration presents major changes, problems, and challenges for families and their children. This is especially the case when the incarcerated individual is a parent who had responsibility for childrearing prior to incarceration or was a central family figure. Families are also affected by incarceration even when prisoners’ preprison relationships with other family members were negative or strained. Parenting from prison is different from parenting in the community and is difficult as well. Ongoing changes in family structure, roles, and relationships are quite common as families strive to manage as a family and nurture their children under these circumstances. Although the promotion of strong family bonds is a valued social good, public policies often thwart, rather than support, the maintenance of relationships between prisoners and their children.

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Risk and Resilience in Young Children of Incarcerated Mothers

Julie A. Poehlmann, Ph.D.

The dramatic increase in the number of young children with incarcerated mothers that has occurred in the past decades has led to an increased need for developmental research focusing on this population. The National Institute of Mental Health-funded study described here investigated family characteristics, representations of attachment relationships, intellectual outcomes, and behavior problems in 60 children between ages 2 and 7 years during their mothers’ incarceration. Multiple methods were used to collect data from children, mothers, and children’s nonmaternal caregivers, including observations of the home environment; standardized assessments; and interviews with children, mothers, and caregivers. Results indicated that most children experienced multiple risks that threatened their core developmental competencies, including prenatal substance exposures, changes in primary caregivers, and sociodemographic risks associated with poverty. Findings also revealed a high level of negative attachment representations and elevated rates of cognitive delays and behavior problems. Results highlighted (1) the importance of placing children in stable, responsive, and stimulating home environments during maternal incarceration and (2) the need for high-quality longitudinal investigations that focus on the cognitive, behavioral, and social-emotional development of young children of incarcerated parents.

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Incarcerated Parents and their Elementary School-Age Children

J. Mark Eddy, Ph.D.

More research is needed on the children of incarcerated parents, but a large body of literature examines the association between the antisocial behavior of parents and that of their children. In a meta-analysis of 34 longitudinal studies, Lipsey and Derzon (1998) found that for elementary school-age children, having parents with antisocial behavior problems was one of the strongest (albeit modest) predictors of violent or serious delinquency in adolescence and young adulthood. Similarly, in clinic samples, paternal antisocial diagnosis typically is the strongest predictor of child conduct disorder diagnosis (e.g., Frick et al., 1992). The literature that specifically addresses the relationship of parental incarceration per se to the adjustment of elementary school-age children will be overviewed. New descriptive data from the National Institute of Mental Health-funded Parent Child Study (PCS) on elementary school-age children of incarcerated parents also will be presented. PCS is an ongoing, longitudinal, randomized controlled trial of a State prison-based parent management training program for men and women inmates. Data are being collected from inmates, one of their elementary school-age children, and the primary caregiver of the target child.

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Parental Imprisonment: Effects on Children’s Delinquency through the Life Course in England and Sweden

Joseph Murray, Ph.D., M.Phil.

This talk will summarize findings on the effects of parental imprisonment on children from two longitudinal studies in England and Sweden. Data were used from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (England) and Project Metropolitan (Sweden). Boys in England who experienced parental imprisonment were at high risk for delinquency and mental health problems throughout the life course compared with other children, even after controlling for other childhood risk factors. Boys and girls who experienced parental imprisonment in Sweden were at high risk for criminal behavior compared with other children but not after taking into account the effects of parental criminality. This variability in the effects of parental imprisonment between England and Sweden suggests that family-friendly prison policies, increased social support to prisoners’ families, and more liberal public attitudes to crime and punishment might prevent the adverse effects of parental imprisonment on children.

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Prevention Interventions

Motivational Treatment to Prevent Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancy: A Randomized, Controlled Efficacy Trial with Women Being Released from Jail

Patricia Dolan Mullen, Dr.P.H. 

Alcohol exposure in utero, even before pregnancy is recognized, increases the risk of lifelong cognitive deficits and behavioral disorders. We randomized women at risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy (AEP) before jail and not planning a pregnancy ≤6 months postrelease to (1) a transtheoretical model-based motivational treatment with transition assistance and contraception education/services (n=133 TX) or (2) information only (n=83 Controls). Timeline follow-back interviews determined pregnancy risk and drinking; followup data were divided into successive 30-day periods, each classified as a failure if any risk drinking or unprotected sex occurred. Women in the treatment group had less AEP and pregnancy risk in months 5–6 and less risk drinking in all months. In this sample at high psychosocial risk, changing drinking may be more feasible than preventing an unplanned pregnancy, in part because many women in the treatment group were ineligible for effective contraceptives. These results are similar to a second trial using a motivational intervention without transition assistance.

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Responsive Parenting Support During the Prison Nursery and Reentry Years

Mary W. Byrne, Ph.D., C.P.N.P., M.P.H. 

One hundred pairs of women inmates and their infants coresiding in a prison nursery are enrolled in a National Institute of Nursing Research-funded longitudinal study throughout their nursery stay and 1st reentry year (Maternal and Child Outcomes of a Prison Nursery Program). Repeated measures of maternal qualities, child development, and mother-child interaction are recorded through questionnaires, indepth interviews, participant observations, and videotaping. Based on grounded theory ("Choosing the Parenting Self") identified in this investigator’s previous studies, an intervention tailored to observed and expressed needs, is implemented by advanced practice nurses. Weekly prison visits are made to the study pairs, and phone and mail interactions are continued following the return of the infant to the free community. Home and office visits occur at 6 and 12 months after release. Preliminary findings indicate that developmental milestones are achieved and that secure attachment can be established during the prison stay and maintained in reentry. Both are compromised should separations from the mother occur. The majority of children have remained with their mother following reentry. Future research should longitudinally expand this unique database of women inmates who are not separated at birth from their child, continue community support during the toddler reentry year, and compare outcomes with the growing body of research in this field.

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Motivational Parent Management Training: An Efficacy Trial for Offenders Living with Children

Lew I. Bank, Ph.D. 

The community corrections population and its children are at extreme risk for antisocial behavior, substance abuse, internalizing disorders, school failure, poor peer relations, and other negative outcomes. We have created a cognitive restructuring-parent management training (PMT) curriculum that is tailored to the needs of offenders supervised in the community and their families. We draw from beliefs that have resulted in antisocial behavior and negative consequences at the outset and then focus increasingly on parenting beliefs and behaviors, the home practice of PMT strategies and skills, and the use of those skills in the home and community. We are in year 2 of a 5-year project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to test the efficacy of this intervention program. A total of 180 families are being randomly assigned to Motivational Parents Management Training (MPMT) vs. Community as Usual (CAU). To participate, the primary parent must be currently—or within the prior 2 years—supervised in the community and must live with or have regular contact with one or more children as old as 15 years. We hypothesized that both parents and children assigned to MPMT will have better outcomes than CAU participants for arrests, substance abuse, school and employment success, and executive function. Initial data will be presented, and the challenges and successes will be discussed.

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Incarcerated Addicted Mothers and their 10- to 14-Year-Old Children

Thomas E. Hanlon, Ph.D. 

This presentation reports on the experiences and difficulties associated with the implementation of two prevention programs, one involving a parenting program targeting incarcerated urban, African-American mothers and the other a program conducted in the community targeting their 10- to 14-year-old children. In both instances, formidable challenges surfaced during the course of the study that provide considerable insight into some of the intricacies and pitfalls that are likely to be encountered in conducting systematic evaluations in these separate settings and populations, particularly in studies concerned with followup evaluations and analyses. Suggestions concerning these findings that could profitably be considered in future studies in this vitally important area of prevention research are discussed.

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Engaging Moms Program: Research Results and Introduction to an Intervention for Substance-Abusing Mothers

Gayle A. Dakof, Ph.D. 

The number of women involved with the criminal justice system has increased tremendously over the past decade. A large proportion of female offenders not only have significant substance abuse, health, mental health, economic, and family problems but also are mothers of children younger than age 18, which suggests that the consequences of their drug use and incarceration are apt to be far reaching. The Engaging Moms Program (EMP) is a family-based intervention designed to help mothers be successful in substance abuse treatment and in family drug court. EMP focuses on helping the mother change her life so that she can provide a safe and nurturing home for her children and herself. Two studies have been done on EMP. The first found that EMP was considerably more effective than usual community services in enrolling drug-abusing mothers in treatment, and the second study (currently ongoing) likewise found that EMP was more effective than intensive case management services in helping mothers succeed in drug court. Given these promising results, it seems reasonable to speculate that EMP might be a beneficial intervention for mothers involved with the criminal justice system. Research results and an overview of core clinical interventions will be presented.

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Summary and Next Steps

Meeting attendees included Federal employees from various agencies working with children and families involved in the criminal justice system, and researchers and practitioners from across the country. One major theme of the meeting was the need for more research regarding these children and their families. Much needs to be learned regarding how they function, their strengths and weaknesses, long-term trajectories, and the best interventions to prevent future difficulties. Another theme was the need for more scientists conducting research in this area. The presenters and attendees were pleased to have a forum to review the science on children of parents in the criminal justice system.

Below are some examples of future research directions:

  • Examine the effects of: 1) parental criminality, arrest, incarceration, and reentry on children; 2) parental involvement and family relationships on adult recidivism, employment, and health outcomes; 3) marriage on the individual and child outcomes; and 4) programs and policies on children and families.
  • Develop evidence-based interventions concomitantly in the child welfare and criminal justice systems so the two systems will work in concert to serve the family as a unit.
  • Conduct research on child functioning to answer the following questions: 1) How do children’s relationship qualities change over the course of parental incarceration? 2) How does reunification impact social, emotional, and health functioning in children? 3) What can we learn from differential outcomes for siblings? Why? 4) Do resilient young children continue to function well as they grow older? 5) What systems should be changed to continue to foster resiliency?
  • Conduct research on prison nurseries in order to: 1) continue to tailor personalized intervention and follow dyads into preschool years; 2) refine evidence-based intervention resources useful to prison systems with nurseries; 3) conduct comparison studies; and 4) evaluate prevention resources in the community.
  • Determine whether programs such as the Engaging Moms Program (EMP) can be adapted for mothers involved in the criminal justice system; potential opportunities for program implementation include: at the time of arrest, prior to release from jail, upon prison release, or during probation or parole.