Health and Health Behaviors Associated with Parental Incarceration

July 10, 2018

Article Citation

Heard-Garris N, Winkelman TNA, Choi H, et al. Health Care Use and Health Behaviors Among Young Adults with History of Parental Incarceration. Pediatrics. July 2018; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-4314.

First Dose

For at least 5 million US children, a parent who has lived with them has gone to jail or prison. Although parental incarceration (PI) is formally identified as an adverse childhood experience, little is known about the health care use and health behaviors of young adults who experienced PI as a child (<18 years old). In this study of 13084 individuals 24-32 years old, 2.1% experienced mother incarceration (MI) and 9.4% experienced father incarceration (FI) as a child. There were broad racial disparities in PI exposure: non-Hispanic Blacks accounted for 14.8% of the sample but 34.3% of individuals with MI and 23.0% with FI.

Key Points to Remember

Adjusting for multiple sociodemographic factors including age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, and geography, young adults with a history of PI were significantly more likely than peers without history of PI to forgo needed health care; to self-report smoking cigarettes, having alcohol problems, and abusing prescription drugs; and to have 10 or more lifetime sexual partners. Individuals with FI were more likely than peers without FI to say that they had worsening health problems because of lack of health care, they had recent psychological counseling, and they used illicit intravenous drugs and had problem drug use. Individuals with MI were less likely than peers without MI to have annual dental examinations and more likely to use the emergency department as a usual source of health care. History of MI was also associated with having sex in exchange for money. These findings, which highlight common and also distinct associations of FI and MI with downstream health care utilization and health behaviors, underscore barriers to timely health care, risks of unhealthy substance-use and sexual behaviors, and other likely consequences of disruptions to family units resulting from parental incarceration during childhood.

Link to Research Article

Summary Author

Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP  

Sign up for the PRN Newsletter

Make sure you don't miss any of our posts - sign up for the PRN newsletter and get new posts delivered to you directly.

Sign Up Now


Let us know how we're doing!

Meet the Team

Meet Dr. Davis, and the rest of the PRN team