This 2017 article from the journal of the US's National Institute of Justice states:

One statistic indicates that children of incarcerated parents are, on average, six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves.

It provides a citation to: Megan Cox, The Relationships Between Episodes of Parental Incarceration and Students' Psycho-Social and Educational Outcomes: An Analysis of Risk Factors (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2009).

The reasoning makes sense, but I was just wondering what statistics show this, especially in regards to kids in the same communities who grow up with an incarcerated parent or not. Thanks.

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    This might be a case where the say "correlation is not causation" applies. Maybe I read too quickly the linked article, but I could not find a comparison between children in the same environment with or without incarcerated parents.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 15:26
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    @FluidCode That was pretty much what I was thinking because people in poor areas are more likely to commit crime anyways so I was wondering if that article took this into consideration or not. Again, the reasoning makes sense, but I just wanted to make sure.
    – Ankit
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 18:44
  • The article doesn't claim causation, only correlation. Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


The rate of incarceration of blacks is much higher that whites: Pew Research

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Given that children tend to be the same race as their parents, it's to be expected that the children of black prisoners would be more likely to be incarcerated.

I calculate that the likelihood of blacks being incarcerated is just shy of 6x that of white people. It stands to reason that the same factor would apply to their children.

Likely similar factors can be found with regard to income and "social class", and these also tend (somewhat less strongly) to be "inherited" by children.

Of course, none of this implies that these groups are "more criminal" than the un-incarcerated groups -- likely much is due to education, economic pressures, social environment, police malfeasance, and overzealous prosecution/sentencing.

And, I'll further admit that this does not show a connection specifically between incarcerated individuals and the outcomes for their children. But given the strong effect of race it would be hard to separate other factors.

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    I am already aware of the role of race in the criminal justice system. I think you are trying to offer an alternative explanation, but this doesn't really answer my question.
    – Ankit
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 14:11
  • @Ankit - This explains that, absent much more detailed data, the question is unanswerable. Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 15:14
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    You aren't giving statisticians enough credit. It wouldn't be complex to compensate for the effects of race (including comparing only to others of the same race).
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 15:46
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    @DanielRHicks, I think the title specifically asks for statistics which control for the incarceration status of parents. Yes, that requires more data than your answer, but that doesn't make the answer impossible.
    – o.m.
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 16:38
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    This is not really helpful because it's not correlating incarcerated parents with incarceration. It's correlating black parents with incarceration, which is an interesting way to just correlate black with incarceration.
    – user11643
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 14:25

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