Abstract: Destabilizing Consequences of Juvenile Incarceration: Evidence on Imprisoned Fathers' Mental Health, Parenting, and Pre-Incarceration Social Environment (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Destabilizing Consequences of Juvenile Incarceration: Evidence on Imprisoned Fathers' Mental Health, Parenting, and Pre-Incarceration Social Environment

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Durrell Washington, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, IL
Luke Muentner, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose: Prior studies have shown that incarcerating young people in juvenile prisons can further exacerbate adverse behavior and health related challenges. The effects of institutionalization not only have an immediate impact on a person but can also affect future decision-making ability as it pertains to relationships and criminality. This study aims to address how a history of juvenile incarceration can help us to understand adult offending, mental health outcomes, parenting, and social context.

Methods: Data for this study comes from the Multi-Site Family Study on Incarceration, Parenting, and Partnering, a longitudinal study documenting experiences of 1,991 incarcerated men. Our sample draws from the baseline survey which examines previous juvenile and adult criminal justice involvement, pre-incarceration life, current health, and family relationships. Participants were an average of 34-years-old, majority Black (57%), and high school graduates (67%). The men had been incarcerated an average of 6 previous times, the first of which occurring at an average age of 16.

Outcomes of interest span three domains: pre-incarceration social environment (e.g., scales of neighborhood quality and negative peer influence as well as a count of previous arrests); health (e.g., scales of symptoms for depression, PTSD, ADHD, and learning problems); and parenting (e.g., frequency of incarceration contact and a scale of feelings as a parent). The key predictor is juvenile incarceration, measured by an indicator as to whether the participant had ever been incarcerated in a juvenile correctional facility. OLS regression models were conducted to examine associations with the dependent variables, controlling for demographic characteristics, justice experiences, and treatment.

Results: Half of the sample (n=1025, 51%) had experienced juvenile incarceration. Our final models suggest that currently imprisoned men who have a history of juvenile incarceration see overall statistically significant lower qualities of neighborhoods (p<.001), more negative peer influences (p<.001), and increases in adult arrests (p<.001) prior to their current incarceration. While in prison, those who were incarcerated as youth saw significantly more ADHD symptoms (p<.05) and learning problems (p<.001) than their peers. For those that are parents, histories of juvenile incarceration predicted lower levels of contact with children during their current prison stay (p<.05) and overall less positive feelings as being a parent (p<.05).

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study suggest that a history of justice involvement as a juvenile can lead to adult arrest, adverse health outcomes, negative peer influences and poor parental child relationships. System involvement as a youth was also positively correlated with residing in poorer neighborhoods. The findings and implications that will be discussed will stress the need for developing interventions and policy reforms to address juvenile delinquency; and wrap around services to support juveniles during the re-entry process in order to not only address any health-related issues, but in promoting and sustaining healthy familial and peer relationships.