Lawmakers across the political spectrum, in some countries such as the United States, have begun to re-examine the policies that led to the massive growth in incarceration over the last generation. Incarceration is costly, the evidence for its deterrence value is mixed, and it has disproportionately affected people who are poor and (in the United States) black, exacerbating existing social inequities. There is also increased attention being paid to the negative effects of incarceration on already-disadvantaged communities.
Incarceration Effects on Families
In an article, Comfort argues that, through “their association with someone convicted of a crime, legally innocent people have firsthand and often intense contact with criminal justice authorities and correctional facilities, they experience variants of the direct and indirect consequences of incarceration, and they are confronted by the paradox of a penal state.” 
Incarceration Effects on Children
Children do not often figure in discussions of incarceration, but new research finds more than five million U.S. children have had at least one parent in prison at one time or another-about three times higher than earlier estimates that included only children with a parent currently incarcerated. This proportion is higher among black, poor, and rural children.
There is a substantial body of literature detailing the negative implications of parental incarceration for child well-being. Research has linked parental incarceration to childhood health problems, including asthma, depression, and anxiety; acting-out behavior; grade retention; stigma; and, in adulthood, an increased likelihood of poor mental or physical health.
In some cases there can be positive effects when a parent is incarcerated, namely, when the parent is abusive or otherwise poses a danger to the child (through substance abuse, for example). Nonetheless, most research finds negative outcomes associated with incarceration. 
There are some differences between maternal incarceration and paternal incarceration.
In a 2014 report to the National Academy of Sciences, the Committee on the Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States said that the “few studies that have examined the consequences for children of incarcerated mothers tend to focus on separation from children and housing stability. These studies often find persistent disadvantage in terms of poor education and financial circumstances, substance abuse, mental illness, domestic abuse, or a combination of these. At this time, findings on the effects of maternal incarceration on child well-being are mixed.” 
Research on the Field
Descriptive research on the prevalence and correlates of parental incarceration shows three main things. First, the risk of paternal and maternal incarceration have both increased dramatically since the onset of the prison boom in the early 1970s, with risks of paternal incarceration far higher than risks of maternal incarceration. Second, African American children and children whose parents did not complete high school are especially likely to experience this event. Third, children of incarcerated mothers and fathers were exposed to a host of other risk factors for poor outcomes before experiencing paternal or maternal incarceration and show high levels of a host of behavioral problems (although descriptive work does not provide insight into whether these behavioral problems are due to paternal or maternal incarceration or something else). (…)
Research on the relationship between maternal incarceration and child wellbeing is far more contentious than is research on the consequences of paternal incarceration for family life and children’s outcomes. In general, studies in this area using less extensive controls or considering effects on older children find broad evidence of harms, while studies using more extensive controls or considering effects on younger children find minimal evidence of harm. This is not to say, of course, that children with incarcerated mothers are not struggling, on average, relative to children who do not experience this event. Instead, it suggests that the struggles these children face may be due not to the actual incarceration experience but to the many other disadvantages these children faced [even] prior to having their mother experience incarceration. Two areas in this subfield in which there is little debate involve (1) the consequences of high levels of female imprisonment for foster care caseloads, and (2) how the stigma attached to having a mother imprisoned affects teacher expectations of children. However, all other areas are hotly contested. (…)
As will be the case with most of the research on paternal incarceration and child wellbeing, nearly all of the research on the consequences of paternal incarceration for children’s family contexts finds consistent evidence of negative effects, although very little of the research in this area uses a sufficiently strong research design to establish causality. (…)
Whether considering consequences for the mortality risks of very young children, the housing instability of children about to enter kindergarten, or the behavioral, mental health, and physical health problems of slightly older children, all signs point toward the incarceration of a father doing harm to children. There are, however, important caveats here, as some work in this area demonstrates that these consequences are limited to fathers who had not engaged in domestic violence and were not convicted of a violent crime, with some evidence also suggesting that the consequences are most severe for children living with their fathers prior to his incarceration. (…)
Although the research designs for studies considering the consequences of paternal incarceration for older children (including adolescences, young adults, and even adults in their 40s in some instances) tend to be weaker than those considering the consequences of paternal incarceration on young children, research in this area paints a mostly consistent portrait of negative effects. Because most of the studies that make it possible to follow the children of incarcerated parents into later life are from countries other than the United States, it is less clear how representative the studies briefly reviewed in this section are of the children of the American prison boom. 
- Comfort, M. L. (2003). In the tube at San Quentin: The “secondary prisonization” of women visiting inmates. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 32(1), page 271.
- Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). Parents behind bars: What happens to their children Washington, DC: Child Trends
- National Research Council. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Pages 262-263.
- Wildeman, C. (2014). Parental incarceration and child wellbeing: An annotated bibliography
- Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color blindness. New York: The New Press.
- Andersen, L. H. (2016). How children’s educational outcomes and crimininality vary by duration and frequency of paternal incarceration. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 149-170.
- Apel, R. (2016). The effects of jail and prison confinement on cohabitation and marriage. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 103-126.
- Apel, R., Blokland, A. A., Nieuwbeerta, P., & van Schellen, M. (2010). The impact of imprisonment on marriage and divorce: A risk set matching approach. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 26(2), 269-300.
- Arditti, J. A. (2012). Child trauma within the context of parental incarceration: A family process perspective. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 4(3), 181-219.
- Bennett, N. G., Bloom, D. E., & Craig, P. H. (1989). The emergence of black and white marriage patterns. American Journal of Sociology, 95(3), 692-722.
- Braman, D. (2002). Families and incarceration. In M. Mauer & M. Chesney-Lind (Eds.), Invisible punishment: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment (pp. 117-135). New York: The New Press.
- Braman, D. (2004). Doing time on the outside: Incarceration and family life in urban America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Brame, R., Bushway, S., Paternoster, R., & Turner, M. G. (2014). Demographic patterns of cumulative arrest prevalence by ages 18 and 23. Crime and Delinquency, 60, 471-486.
- Brame, R., Turner, M. G., Paternoster, R., & Bushway, S. D. (2011). Cumulative prevalence of arrest from ages 8 to 23 in a national sample. Pediatrics, 129(1), 21-27.
- Bryant, P. T., & Morris, E. (1998). What does the public really think? Corrections Today, 59(1), 26-28.
- Cho, R. M. (2009a). The impact of maternal imprisonment on children’s probability of grade retention: Results from Chicago public schools. Journal of Urban Economics, 65, 11-23.
- Cho, R. M. (2009b). The impact of maternal incarceration on children’s educational achievement: Results from Chicago public schools. Journal of Human Resources, 44, 772-797.
- Christian, J. (2005). Riding the bus: Barriers to prison visitation and family management strategies. Journal of Criminal Justice, 21(1), 31-48.
- Christian, J., Mellow, J., & Thomas, S. (2006). Social and economic implications of family connections to prisoners. Journal of Criminal Justice, 34(4), 443-452.
- Clear, T. R. (2002). The problem with “addition by subtraction” : The prison-crime relationship in low-income communities. In M. Mauer & M. Chesney-Lind (Eds.), Invisible punishment: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment (pp. 181-193). New York: The New Press.
- Clear, T. R. (2007). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Comfort, M. (2008). Doing time together: Love and family in the shadow of the Prison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Comfort, M. L. (2003). In the tube at San Quentin: The “secondary prisonization” of women visiting inmates. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 32(1), 77-107.
- Comfort, M. (2016). “A Twenty Hour a Day Job” : The repercussive effects of frequent low-level criminal justice involvement on family life. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665 (May 2016), 63-79.
- Cummings, P. (1978). The single mother as criminal defendant: A practitioner’s guide to the consequences of incarceration. Golden Gate University Law Review, 9(2), 507-552.
- Dallaire, D. H., Ciccone, A., & Wilson, L. C. (2010). Teachers’ experiences with and expectations of children with incarcerated parents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 281-290.
- Dumont, D. M., Wildeman, C., Lee. H., Gjelsvik, A., Valera, P., & Clarke, J. G. (2014). Incarceration, maternal hardship, and perinatal health behaviors. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 18, 2179-2187.
- Einat, T., Harel-Aviram, I., & Rabinovitz, S. (2015). Barred from each other: Why normative husbands remain married to incarcerated wives: An exploratory study. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 59(6), 654-679.
- Fishman, L. T. (1990). Women at the wall: A study of prisoners’ wives doing time on the outside. New York: State University of New York Press.
- Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2015). Punishment regimes and the multilevel effects of parental incarceration: Intergenerational, intersectional, and interinstitutional models of social inequality and systemic exclusion. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 135-158.
- Geller, A., Cooper, C. E., Garfinkel, I., Schwartz-Soicher, O., & Mincy, R. B. (2012). Beyond absenteeism: Father incarceration and child development. Demography, 49(1), 49-76.
- Geller, A., Garfinkel, I., Cooper, C., & Mincy, R. (2009). Parental incarceration and childhood wellbeing: Implications for urban families. Social Science Quarterly, 90, 1186-1202.
- Glaze, L. E., & Kaebel, D. (2014). Correctional populations in the United States, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Gilfus, M. E. (1993). From victims to survivors to offenders: Women’s routes of entry and immersion into street crime. Women & Criminal Justice, 4(1), 63-89.
- Giordano, P. C. (2010). Legacies of crime: A follow-up of the children of highly delinquent girls and boys. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Girshick, L. B. (1996). Soledad women: Wives of prisoners speak out. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Glaze, L. E., & Maruschak, L. M. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Grinstead, O., Faigeles, B., Bancroft, C., & Zack, B. (2001). The financial costs of maintaining relationships with incarcerated African American men: A survey of women prison visitors. Journal of African American Men, 6(1), 59-69.
- Hagan, J., & Dinovitzer, R. (1999). Collateral consequences of imprisonment for children, communities, and prisoners. In M. Tonry & Petersilia (Eds.), Prisons (pp. 121-162). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Harris, A., Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing blood from stones: Legal debt and social inequality in the contemporary United States. American Journal of Sociology, 115(6), 1753-1799.
- Haskins, A. R. (2014). Unintended consequences: Effects of paternal incarceration on school readiness and later special education placement. Sociological Science, 1, 141-158.
- Huebner, B. M. (2005). The effect of incarceration on marriage and work over the life course. Justice Quarterly, 22(3), 281-303.
- Huebner, B. M. (2007). Racial and ethnic differences in the likelihood of marriage: The effect of incarceration. Justice Quarterly, 24(1), 156-183.
- Huebner, B. M., & Gustafson, R. (2007). The effect of maternal incarceration on offspring involvement in the criminal justice system. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 283-296.
- Johnson, R., & Raphael, S. (2009). The effects of male incarceration dynamics on acquired immune deficiency syndrome infection rates among African American women and men. Journal of Law and Economics, 52, 251-293.
- Johnson, E., & Waldfogel, J. (2004). Children of incarcerated parents: Multiple risks and children’s living arrangements. In M. E. Patillo, D. F. Weiman, & B. Western (Eds.), Imprisoning America: The social effects of mass incarceration (pp. 97-131). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Johnson, R. C. (2009). Ever-increasing levels of parental incarceration: The consequences for children. In S. Raphael & M. A. Stoll (Eds.), Do prisons make us safer? The benefits and costs of the prison boom (pp. 177-206). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Kruttschnitt, C. (2010). The paradox of women’s imprisonment. Daedalus, 139(3), 32-42.
- Kyckelhahn, T. (2011). Justice expenditures and employment, FY 1982-2007: Statistical tables. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Laub, J. H., & Sampson, R. J. (2003). Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Lee, H., McCormick, T., Hicken, M., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Racial inequalities and connectedness to imprisoned individuals in the United States. Du Bois Review, 12(2), 269-282.
- Lee, H., Wildeman, C., Wang, E., Matusko, N., & Jackson, J. S. (2014). A heavy burden? The health consequences of having a family member incarcerated. American Journal of Public Health, 104, 421-427.
- Lopoo, L. M., & Western, B. (2005). Incarceration and the formation and stability of marital unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(3), 721-734.
- Massoglia, M., Remster, B., & King, R. D. (2011). Stigma or separation? Understanding the incarceration-divorce relationship. Social Forces, 90, 133-155.
- Messina, N., Grella, C., Burdon, W., & Prendergast, M. (2007). Childhood adverse events and current traumatic distress: A comparison of men and women drug-dependent prisoners. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34(11), 1385-1401.
- Mowen, T. J., & Visher, C. A. (2016). Changing the ties that bind: How incarceration impacts family relationships. Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 503-528.
- Mumola, C. J. (2000). Incarcerated parents and their children. Washington DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). Parents behind bars: What happens to their children Washington, DC: Child Trends.
- Murray, J., Bijleveld, C. A. A. T., Farrington, D., & Loeber, R. (2014). Effects of parental imprisonment on children: Cross-national comparative studies. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Murray, J., & Farrington, D. P. (2005). Parental imprisonment: Effects on boys’ antisocial behavior and delinquency throughout the life-course. Journal of Children Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 1269-1278.
- Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., & Sekol, I. (2012). Children’s anti-social behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after parental incarceration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 175-210.
- Myers, R. R., & Wakefield, S. (2014). Sex, gender, and imprisonment: Rates, reforms, and lived realities. In R. Gartner & B. McCarthy (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of gender, sex, and crime (pp. 572-593). New York: Oxford University Press.
- National Research Council. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
- Nesmith, A., & Ruhland, E. (2008). Children of incarcerated parents: Challenges and resiliency, in their words. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 1119-1130.
- Nuytiens, A., & Christiaens, J. (2015). It all has to do with men: How abusive romantic relationships impact on female pathways to prison. In C. Kruttschnitt & C. Bijleveld (Eds.), Lives of incarcerated women: An international perspective (pp. 32-46). New York: Routledge.
- Pettit, B. (2012). Invisible men: Mass incarceration and the myth of black progress. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Pettit, B., Sykes, B., & Western, B. (2009). Technical report on revised population estimates and NLSY-79 analysis tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
- Poehlmann, J. (2005). Children’s family environments and intellectual outcomes during maternal incarceration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1275-1285.
- Pratt, J. (2008). Scandinavian exceptionalism in an era of penal excess. Part I: The nature and roots of Scandinavian exceptionalism. British Journal of Criminology, 48(2), 119-137.
- Roettger, M. E., & Swisher, R. R. (2011). Associations of father’s history of incarceration with delinquency and arrest among black, white, and Hispanic males in the U.S. Criminology, 49(4), 1109-1147.
- Sack, W. H., & Seidler, J. (1978). Should children visit their parents in prison? Law and Human Behavior, 2(3), 261-266.
- Sack, W. H., Seidler, J., & Thomas, S. (1976). The children of imprisoned parents: A psychosocial exploration. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 46(4), 618-628.
- Schnittker, J., & Bacak, V. (2013). A mark of disgrace or a badge of honor? Subjective status among former inmates. Social Problems, 60(2), 234-254.
- Schwartz-Soicher, O., Geller, A., & Garfinkel, I. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on material hardship. Social Service Review, 3, 447-473.
- Shlafer, R. J., Poehlmann, J., & Donelan-McCall, N. (2012). Maternal jail time, conviction, and arrest as predictors of children’s 15-year antisocial outcomes in the context of a nurse home visiting program. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41(1), 38-52.
- Siegel, J, A. (2011). Disrupted childhoods: Children of women in prison. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
- Siennick, S. E., Stewart, E. A., & Staff, J. (2014). Explaining the association between incarceration and divorce. Criminology, 52(3), 371-398.
- Skardhamar, T., Savolainen, J., Aase, K. N., & Lyngstad, T. H. (2015). Does marriage reduce crime? Crime & Justice, 44, 385-557.
- Snell, T. L., & Morton, D. C. (1994). Survey of state prison inmates, 1991: Women in prison. Bureau of Justice statistics special report (NCJ 145321). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
- Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. (2014). Number and rate (per 100,000 resident population in each group) of sentenced prisoners under jurisdiction of State and Federal correctional authorities on December 31. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Steffensmeier, D., & Allan, E. (1996). Gender and crime: Toward a gendered theory of female offending. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 459-487.
- Sugie, N. F. (2012). Punishment and welfare: Paternal incarceration and families’ receipt of public assistance. Social Forces, 90, 1403-1427.
- Swann, C., & Sylvester, M. S. (2006). The foster care crisis: What caused caseloads to grow? Demography, 43(2), 309-335.
- Sykes, B. L., & Pettit, B. (2014). Mass incarceration, family complexity, and the reproduction of childhood disadvantage. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654(1), 127-149.
- Siegel, J. (2011). Disrupted childhoods: Children of women in prison. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
- Turney, K. (2015). Liminal men: Incarceration and relationship dissolution. Social Problems, 62, 499-528.
- Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Wildeman, C., Wakefield, S., & Lee, H. (2016). Tough on crime, tough on families? Criminal justice and family life in America. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 8-21.
- Turanovic, J. J., Rodriguez, N., & Pratt, T. C. (2012). The collateral consequences of incarceration revisited: A qualitative analysis of the effects on caregivers of children of incarcerated parents. Criminology, 50(4), 913-959.
- Turney, K. (2014). The consequences of paternal incarceration for maternal neglect and harsh parenting. Social Forces, 92, 1607-1636.
- Turney, K. (2014). The intergenerational consequences of mass incarceration: Implications for children’s co-residence and contact with grandparents. Social Forces, 93(1), 299-327.
- Turney, K., & Haskins, A. R. (2014). Falling behind? Children’s early grade retention after paternal incarceration. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 241-258.
- Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Redefining relationships: Explaining the countervailing consequences of paternal incarceration for parenting. American Sociological Review, 78(6), 949-979.
- Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Detrimental for some? Heterogeneous effects of maternal incarceration on child wellbeing. Criminology and Public Policy, 14(1), 125-156.
- Van de Rakt, M., Murray, J., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2012). The long-term effects of paternal imprisonment on criminal trajectories of children. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49(1), 81-108.
- Wacquant, L. (2000). The new “peculiar institution” : On the prison as surrogate ghetto. Theoretical Criminology, 4(3), 377-389.
- Wakefield, S. (2015). Accentuating the positive or eliminating the negative? Father incarceration and caregiver-child relationship quality. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 104(4), 925-928.
- Wakefield, S., & Powell, K. (2016). Distinguishing “petty” offenders from “serious” criminals in the estimation of family life effects. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665, 195-212.
- Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Wakefield, S. (2016). Changing the ties that bind: Distinguishing the connected from the disconnected and accounting for the burdensome. Criminology and Public Policy, 15(2), 543-549.
- Wakefield, S., Lee, H., & Wildeman, C. (2016). Tough on crime, tough on families? Criminal justice and family life in America. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665, 8-21.
- Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Western, B., & Pettit, B. (2010). Incarceration & social inequality. Daedalus, 139(3), 8-19.
- Wildeman, C. (2009). Parental imprisonment, the prison boom, and the concentration of childhood advantage. Demography, 46, 265-280.
- Wildeman, C. (2010). Parental incarceration and children’s physically aggressive behaviors: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Social Forces, 89, 285-310.
- Wildeman, C. (2014). Parental incarceration, child homelessness, and the invisible consequences of mass imprisonment. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 651, 74-96.
- Wildeman, C., Schnittker, J., & Turney, K. (2012). Despair by association? The mental health of mothers with children by recently incarcerated fathers. American Sociological Review, 77(2), 216-243.
- Wildeman, C., & Turney, K. (2014). Positive, negative, or null? The effects of maternal incarceration on children’s behavioral problems. Demography, 3(51), 1041-1068.
- Wildeman, C., & Wakefield, S. (2014). The long arm of the law: The concentration of incarceration in families in the era of mass incarceration. The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, 17(2), 367-389.
- Zavaleta, D., Samuel, K., & Mills, C. (2014). Social isolation: A conceptual and measurement proposal (Vol. 67). OPHI Working Papers.