​Seeking optimal health & development among children of mothers 
involved in the criminal justice system.


The Families & Criminal Justice Institutes offer training and symposia that prepare practitioners to work with families involved in the criminal justice system.  Two Institutes will be offered in 2018 at the Center for Healthy Communities in downtown Los Angeles.


For more information or to register click here.


A New Book on Parental Incarceration

In 1991, as founding director of the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, Denise Johnston appeared on the “Jenny Jones” television program to discuss children of women prisoners.  The live show presented mothers at the California Institution for Women speaking on camera to their children at the television studio.  The children, five to 12 years of age, were overwhelmed and unable to answer the questions posed by Ms. Jones about the experience of parental incarceration.  That suggested to Dr. Johnston that it would be valuable to explore the impact of parental incarceration among adults who had experienced it as children and who were capable of explaining their experiences.


Twenty years later, Dr. Johnston partnered with Megan Sullivan, Ph.D., of Boston University to edit and publish the collected stories of adults who grew up with jailed or imprisoned parents.  In 2016, “Parental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact” was released by the Routledge Books imprint of Taylor & Francis Publishers.


The book presents the stories of men and women from across the U.S. who experienced parental incarceration as children.  Of this group, 60% had an incarcerated father, 11% had an incarcerated mother and 29% experienced the incarceration of both parents.  Less than 40% had lived with their incarcerated parent for sustained periods of their childhood but almost all had lived with their other birth parent for the majority of their lives.  Few visited their parents in jail or prison and only one participated in a jail or prison program for prisoners’ children.  Many had contact with the criminal justice system, with 70% of those who had two incarcerated parents becoming incarcerated themselves.  At the time they wrote their stories, contributor occupations included nurse, attorney, salesperson, school teacher, television producer, realtor and waitress.  Several were students while a small number were unemployed and homeless or in residential drug treatment.


The characteristics of the contributors were remarkably consistent with large-scale research on prisoners’ children and suggest that parental incarceration has limited effects on developmental outcomes in childhood or adulthood.  Analysis showed that one group of contributors had lives that were characterized by poverty and many developmental insults (like trauma); these individuals reported limited effects of parental incarceration while they were children but also poor adult outcomes.  The second group of contributors received more developmental resources and had few developmental insults in childhood; these individuals reported experiencing immediate adverse effects of parental incarceration in childhood but all had good adult outcomes and none had been incarcerated. 


The book represents the first major publication from Families & Criminal Justice.  “This was an important project for us,” FCJ director Dr. Johnston says. “ In order to prevent intergenerational crime and incarceration, we have to understand it's effects and this book moved us quite a way toward that goal.”


In her review of the book, Professor Emeritus Barbara Bloom of Sonoma State University wrote: “Parental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact fills a major gap in the research in that it is the first text of its kind to explore the impact of parental incarceration on children within a developmental framework. It enhances the literature and provides an opportunity for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to better understand and garner unique insights into the lived experiences of adult women and men whose stories of parental involvement in the criminal justice system have often been ignored in studies of crime, punishment, and mass incarceration. This is a must-read for all those looking to improve outcomes for the children of incarcerated parents.”


“Parental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact” is available from Amazon Books at https://www.amazon.com/Parental-Incarceration-Personal-Accounts-Developmental/dp/1138183229/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481665380&sr=1-2&keywords=Parental+Incarceration.



California's Assembly Bill 109 "realigned" the criminal justice system to reduce the size of state prison and parole populations by moving low-level offenders to county jails and transferring post-release supervision to county probation departments.  But AB109 was passed without consideration of its effects on thousands of children of incarcerated parents....Read more  


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Los Angeles County kids

with a mother who is or has been in jail, in prison, or on probation.