Should children reunite with parents after incarceration? Why or why not?

Many factors help with the reunification of parents and their children after parole. In the Boston Reentry Study (BRS), a quarter of children were living with their parents before his or her incarceration. Upon release, this dropped to 10%. Even though the vast majority of inmates reported weekly contact with their children, it was only 60%-70% after the release. 

Many of these studies and findings of the BRS included in-depth quantitative interviews with those who were incarcerated. Many of the things that shaped incarceration to reunification were family support, drug use, criminal activity, economic security, and even criminal justice.

Other processes shaped reunification for the good and bad. While many of us take these for granted, many who are incarcerated and even children of those parents in prison do not always have these privileges.

  1. Stable Housing: Housing stability is a major factor in the reunification of a formerly incarcerated parent and their child. At least half of the parents were living in unstable housing at some point during the first year after release from prison. Unstable housing is generally defined as any temporary housing situation, which can make it harder for a child to stay with their parent. This can include living on the street, shelter, and even transitional housing.
  2. The Complexity and Supportiveness of Families: A parent-child relationship is hugely impacted by family structure. Those parents who used to be incarcerated and also have children with multiple partners are less likely to be living with their children after release. On top of this, parent-child relationship quality was affected by the level of the relationship before incarcerated. This can drop by 50% due to each additional partner, which can highly affect the child.
  3. Drug Use and Crime: Many inmates continued to use drugs and alcohol within a year after release were less likely to be living with their children or even be in regular contact with them. This includes any criminal activity. This can have a destabilizing effect on the child and make it difficult to reconnect with a child after prison release.

Formerly incarcerated parents that have had regular contact with their children and live in a stable household can have a positive effect on the child’s well-being and the parent’s recidivism. Reentry doesn’t just affect the child and parent but can be felt across three generations of the household.

In America, over five million children are currently experiencing some form of incarceration of their parents during a point in their childhood. Whether or not a child should reunite with their parents after incarceration isn’t an easy decision, as many factors are involved in influencing this decision and shouldn’t be made lightly. One can help, and that is strengthening the family relationships of incarcerated parents not just during the time spent in prison, but after release as well. It’s not just for the child’s well-being but also a key factor in helping a parent stay out of prison and help rebuild their lives and strengthen family bonds.

Hague, Alyssa. August 29, 2018. Factors That Shape Parent-Child Reunification After a Parent is Released From Prison.



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