Methods: Participants included 475 adults recently released from the Oregon State prison system and in a transitional housing program. Participants were in a randomized controlled trial of a volunteer mentoring program for men and women involved with the criminal justice system. For this study, structural equation modeling was used to analyze data collected at the first wave, Wave 1, of the RCT. Wave 1 was administered to participants within two weeks after they had exited prison. For this study, only participants with children were retained in the sample (N = 252). A latent factor representing parent-child contact was created from three dichotomous measures of parent-child contact during incarceration (i.e., visits, written, phone). This in turn was regressed on past child protective service and corrections systems involvement during the parent’s childhood, along with several dummy-coded variables: prior contact status (0 = no contact with child month before incarceration, 1 = contact month prior to incarceration), presence of a mental health diagnosis (0 = No, 1 = Yes), drug/alcohol problem (0 = No, 1 = Yes), and sex (0 = male, 1 = female). Additionally, participant age, minority status (0 = White, 1 = non-White,), and time served in current sentence were included as covariates.
Results: The findings suggested that incarcerated parents have lower levels of contact with their children when the parents experienced more childhood adversities such as parental incarceration, foster care, and group home placement (β = -0.36, p < 0.05). Mothers displayed higher levels of contact with children than fathers (β = 0.79, p < 0.05); similarly, younger parents displayed higher levels of contact than parents who were older (β = 0.21, p < 0.05), as did those who had had recent contact with their child in the month prior to incarceration compared to those who had not (β = 0.48, p < 0.05).
Conclusions and Implications: Given the importance of parent-child contact during incarceration and reentry for many incarcerated parents and their children, our research highlights some of the factors that are related to higher and lower levels of parent-child contact during incarceration. Facilitating parent-child contact during incarceration, particularly for fathers, and those who have experienced multiple adverse childhood events might be a way to improve outcomes for a greater number of incarcerated parents and their children, prevent the intergenerational cycle of poverty, trauma, and incarceration, and pave the way for many more healthy families.