Young adults who had a parent incarcerated during their childhood are more likely to smoke cigarettes, engage in risky sexual behaviours and abuse alcohol, prescription and illicit drugs, a study of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found.
Incarceration of a mother during childhood, as opposed to a father, doubled the likelihood of young adults using the emergency department instead of a primary care setting for medical care, the study shows.
Young adults whose mothers had been incarcerated also were twice as likely to have sex in exchange for money, while those with histories of father incarceration were 2.5 times more likely to use intravenous drugs.
The study has potentially broad impact, as over five million U.S. children have had a parent in jail or prison.
Researchers at the hospital analysed national survey data from over 13,000 young adults aged 24 to 32, and
found that 10 per cent have had a parent incarcerated during their childhood.
Participants were on average 10 years old the first time their parent was incarcerated.
Moreover, young Black adults had a much higher prevalence of parental incarceration.
While Black participants represented less than 15 per cent of the young adults surveyed, they accounted for
roughly 34 per cent of those with history of an incarcerated mother and 23 per cent with history of an
“The systemic differences in the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of people of colour impact
the future health of their children,” says lead author Heard-Garris, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s
Hospital of Chicago and an instructor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Previous research shows that individuals with a history of parental incarceration have higher rates of
asthma, HIV and AIDS, learning delays, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The researchers stress that more research is needed to identify specific barriers to healthcare targeting this population’s under-utilization of care.
The study has been published in Pediatrics.