Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties

Literature review - Economic strain

Parental imprisonment might cause adverse outcomes for children because it causes economic strain (lowered family income), which is consistently associated with child antisocial behaviour (51). Parental imprisonment might cause an increase in economic strain in the short term, because imprisoned parents cannot contribute to family income (51), and because families often have to pay for prison visits, letters, telephone calls (especially if prisoners call collect, as in the United States), and sending money to imprisoned relatives.

Both in the Cambridge Study (31) and in one other large-scale longitudinal survey (the Great Smoky Mountains Study, 53) children of prisoners experienced higher rates of economic strain than other children. Many small-scale studies also report that families experience economic difficulties following imprisonment of a relative (13, 54-57). However, to test whether economic strain explains the link between parental imprisonment and adverse child outcomes, it should be investigated whether economic strain increases after parental imprisonment, and whether this, in turn, increases adverse outcomes for children. No study has done this to date. Therefore, although studies report that economic strain is common among families of prisoners, they have not demonstrated that this mediates the effects of parental imprisonment on children.