Children with Incarcerated Family Members Suffer Health Problems Later in Life

A new study finds that people who grew up in a household where a member was incarcerated have an 18 percent greater risk of experiencing poor health quality later in life than adults who did not have a family member sent to prison. The findings, which assessed other sources of adversity for children as well, suggest that the high rate of imprisonment in the U.S. may be a causal factor in long lasting physical and mental health difficulties for some families.

“These people were children when this happened, and it was a significant disruptive event,” said Annie Gjelsvik, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health and the lead author of the study. “That disruptive event has long-term adverse consequences.”

The study is based on data gathered from more than 81,000 adults in 12 states and the District of Columbia. The respondents took a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey that asked whether in their first eighteen years of life they lived with anyone who served time or was sentenced to serve time in a prison, jail or other correctional facility. California was not one of the states.

Of 81,910 respondents, 4.5 percent (about 3,700 people), said they grew up in a household where an adult family member was incarcerated. The percent of people exposed to an incarceration in the family varied by age (younger people were more likely than older people and by race (blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites.) In addition to questions about race and age and incarcerated family members, the survey asked how many days each month responders experienced illness.

In a separate paper last year, based on the same data, the researchers also found that people with family incarcerations in their youth were more likely as adults to engage in smoking and heavy drinking. after controlling for demographics and additional adverse childhood events.

The study was published in the Journal of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved.

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