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What are the factors of parental incarceration that may increase risk of poor emotional and mental health in children of prisoners?

Matthew, Thorne; de Viggiani, Nick; Emma, Plugge

What are the factors of parental incarceration that may increase risk of poor emotional and mental health in children of prisoners? Thumbnail


Thorne Matthew

Plugge Emma


Purpose: Globally millions of children have a parent who is imprisoned. Research suggests that this has an adverse impact on the child and imprisonment of a parent is considered to be an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Parental incarceration will not only affect the child but the entire household and may result in further ACEs such as household dysfunction and parental separation making this group of children particularly vulnerable. This scoping review aims to adopt an international perspective to comprehensively examine the extent range and nature of literature both published and grey relating to parental incarceration and the potential impact on children’s emotional and mental health. Design/methodology/approach: In this scoping review, the five stages identified by Arksey and O’Malley (2005) were used including identifying the research question, identifying relevant studies, study selection, charting data, collating, summarising and reporting results. In addition, the included studies were appraised for quality using methodology-specific tools. A critical narrative synthesis was adopted to present findings and discussion. Findings: Nine studies met the inclusion criteria. Of the included studies, eight were retrieved from peer-reviewed journals and one from grey literature searching. Five categories with subcategories were identified affecting children’s mental health: 1) Relationships: parent and incarcerated child relationship; facilitators and barriers to maintaining contact; 2) Family structure; maternal or paternal incarceration; living arrangements during parental incarceration; 3) Children’s emotions: emotional recognition and regulation; resilience; 4) Prison stigma: social stigma; shame and secrecy; 5) Structural disadvantages: poverty; race/ethnicity. Originality/value: This scoping review has highlighted how the imprisonment of a parent negatively affects their children’s emotional and mental health. Factors negatively impacting children’s emotional and mental health are interrelated and complex. Further research is required, including differences between paternal and maternal incarceration; impact of gender and age of child; poverty as an ACE and prison exacerbating this; and effects of ethnicity and race. An important policy direction is in developing an effective way of capturing the parental status of a prisoner to ensure that the child and family receive needed support.


Matthew, T., de Viggiani, N., & Emma, P. (2023). What are the factors of parental incarceration that may increase risk of poor emotional and mental health in children of prisoners?. International Journal of Prisoner Health, 19(4), 724-742.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 28, 2023
Online Publication Date Sep 26, 2023
Publication Date Nov 28, 2023
Deposit Date Aug 30, 2023
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2023
Journal International Journal of Prisoner Health
Print ISSN 1744-9200
Electronic ISSN 1744-9219
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 4
Pages 724-742
Keywords Emotional well-being, Family, Parents, Parent, Prison, Emotions, Humans, Mental Health, Health, Incarceration, Prisoners, Mental health, Scoping review, Child
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