Introduction and Literature Review: Is Parent–Child Contact During Parental Incarceration Beneficial?

  • Rebecca J. ShlaferEmail author
  • Ann Booker Loper
  • Leah Schillmoeller
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


Contact between incarcerated parents and their children has received increased attention because of the growing number of incarcerated parents and the potential effects of contact on child and adult relationships and well-being, parenting, and corrections-related issues such as institutional behavior and recidivism. This introductory chapter summarizes variations in parent–child contact by facility type (i.e., local jails, state prisons, federal prisons) and reviews common practices in jails and prisons across the United States. The benefits of and barriers to different types of parent–child contact in the context of corrections are also summarized, including letter writing, email, phone calls, and personal visits (e.g., face-to-face, video, barrier). Finally, we summarize the literature on the impact of parent–child contact for parents, children, and families.


Children Incarceration Jail Parent–child contact Prison Parenting Parent–child relationships 



Dr. Shlafer’s time on this publication was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award Number UL1TR000114. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


  1. Anda, R. F., Brown, D. W., Felitti, V. J., Dube, S. R., & Giles, W. H. (2008). Adverse childhood experiences and prescription drug use in a cohort study of adult HMO patients. BMC Public Health, 8, 198.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bales, W. D., & Mears, D. P. (2008). Inmate social ties and the transition to society: Does visitation reduce recidivism? Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 45, 87–321. doi: 10.1177/0022427808317574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bogenschneider, K. P. (2014). The research evidence policymakers need to build better public policy for children of incarcerated parents. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention. Advances in child and family policy and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  4. Boudin, C., Stutz, T., & Littman, A. (2012). Prison visitation policies: A fifty state survey. Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper.Google Scholar
  5. Celinska, K., & Siegel, J. (2010). Mothers in trouble: Coping with actual or pending separation from children due to incarceration. The Prison Journal. Published on-line at doi: 10.1177/0032885510382218
  6. Dallaire, D., Ciccone, A., & Wilson, L. C. (2012). The family drawings of at-risk children: Concurrent relations with contact with incarcerated parents, caregiver behavior and stress. Attachment & Human Development, 14(2), 161–183. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2012.661232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dallaire, D. H., Zeman, J., & Thrash, T. (2014). Differential effects of type of children’s contact with their jailed mothers and children’s behavior problems. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention. Advances in child and family policy and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Eddy, J. M., & Poehlmann, J. (Eds.). (2010). Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  9. Eickhoff, T. J. (2010, May 25). Video visitation: Evolving revenue streams. Correctional News. Retrieved from
  10. Emmanuel, A. (2012, August 7). In-person visits fade as jails set up video units for inmates and families. New York Times. Retrieved from
  11. Federal Communications Commission. (2012, December 28). In the matter of rates for interstate inmate calling services: Notice of proposed rulemaking. Retrieved from
  12. Federal Communications Commission. (2013, August 9). FCC reduces high long-distance calling rates paid by inmates. Retrieved from
  13. Ford, E. S., Anda, R. F., Edwards, V. J., Perry, G. S., Zhao, G., Li, C., et al. (2011). Adverse childhood experiences and smoking status in five states. Preventive Medicine, 53(3), 188–193.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Foster, H. (2012). The strains of maternal imprisonment: Importation and deprivation stressors for women and children. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, 221–229. doi: 10.1016/jcrimjus.2012.01.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gasper, J. A. F., Stolberg, A. L., Macie, K. M., & Williams, L. J. (2008). Co-parenting in intact and divorced families: Its impact on young adult adjustment. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 49, 272–290. doi: 10.1080/10502550802231924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gjelsvik, A., Dumont, D. M., & Nunn, A. (2013). Incarceration of a household member and Hispanic health disparities: Childhood exposure and adult chronic disease risk Behaviors. Preventing Chronic Disease, 10, 120281. doi:
  17. Glaze, L., & Maruschak, L. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from
  18. Greene, J. (July 2013). FCC tackles cost of prison phone calls. The Blog of Legal Times. Retrieved from
  19. La Vigne, N. G., Naser, R. L., Brooks, L. E., & Castro, J. L. (2005). Examining the effect of incarceration and in-prison family contact on prisoners’ family relationships. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(4), 314–335. doi: 10.1177/1043986205281727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Loper, A. B., Carlson, L. W., Levitt, L., & Scheffel, K. (2009). Parenting stress, alliance, child contact, and adjustment of imprisoned mothers and fathers. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 48(6), 483–503. doi: 10.1080/10509670903081300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Loper, A. B. & Coleman, E. (2014, March/April). Video visitation for inmates: Thinking outside of the tiny box. Corrections Today, 54–59.Google Scholar
  22. Maruschak, L. M., Glaze, L., & Mumola, C. (2010). Incarcerated parents and their children: Findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents (pp. 189–216). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  23. McClure, H. H., Shortt, J. W., Eddy, J. M., Holmes, A., Van Uum, S., Russell, E., et al. (2014). Associations among mother-child contact, parenting stress, hair cortisol, and mother and child adjustment related to incarceration. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention. Advances in child and family policy and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  24. Mignon, S., & Ransford, P. (2012). Mothers in prison: Maintaining connections with children. Social Work in Public Health, 27, 69–88. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2012.630965.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Minton, T. D., & Golinelli, D. (2014). Jail inmates at midyear 2013: Statistical Tables. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  26. Nesmith, A., & Ruhland, E. (2008). Children of incarcerated parents: Challenges and resiliency, in their own words. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1119–1130. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.02.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2010). Collateral costs: Incarceration’s effect on economic mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.Google Scholar
  28. Phillips, S. (2012). Video visits for children whose parents are incarcerated: In whose best interest? Report for The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from
  29. Poehlmann, J. (2005a). Incarcerated mothers’ contact with children, perceived family relationships, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 350–357. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.19.3.350.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Poehlmann, J. (2005b). Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers. Child Development, 76(3), 679–696. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00871.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D., Loper, A. B., & Shear, L. D. (2010). Children’s contact with their parents in prison: Research findings and recommendations. American Psychologist, 65, 575–598. doi: 10.1037/a0020279.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (2014). Children’s contact with their incarcerated parents: Summary and recommendations. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention. Advances in child and family policy and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  33. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., Runion, H., Burnson, C., Maleck, S., Weymouth, L., Pettit, K., et al. (2014). Young children’s behavioral and emotional reactions to plexiglas and video visits with jailed parents. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents: Implications for policy and intervention. Advances in child and family policy and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  34. Shlafer, R. J., & Poehlmann, J. (2010). Attachment and caregiving relationships in families affected by parental incarceration. Attachment & Human Development, 12, 395–415. doi: 10.1080/14616730903417052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sledge, M. (2013). Prison phone call industry will fight new FCC rules lowering rates for inmates. Huffington Post September 2, 2013. Retrieved from
  36. Sturges, J., & Al-Khattar, A. (2009). Survey of jail visitors about visitation policies. The Prison Journal, 89, 482–496. doi: 10.1177/0032885509351009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Travis, J., Solomon, A., & Waul, M. (2001). From prison to home: The dimensions and consequences of prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  38. Trice, A. D., & Brewster, J. (2004). The effects of maternal incarceration on adolescent children. Journal of Policy and Criminal Psychology, 19, 27–35. doi: 10.1007/BF02802572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Terms and definitions. Retrieved March 26, 2015, from Scholar
  40. Visher, C., & Courtney, S. (2007). One year out: Experiences of prisoners returning to Cleveland. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca J. Shlafer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ann Booker Loper
    • 2
  • Leah Schillmoeller
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PediatricsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  3. 3.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations