Fathers in Jail and their Minor Children: Paternal Characteristics and Associations with Father-Child Contact

Rebecca J. Shlafer, Laurel Davis, Lauren Hindt, Lindsay Weymouth, Hilary Cuthrell, Cynthia Burnson, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objectives: More than five million children have experienced a co-resident parent leaving to spend time behind bars. Most incarceration occurs in jails, yet little is known about contact between parents in jail and their minor children. Such information is essential to inform programming and policy to support families in the context of incarceration. Methods: In the present study, 315 fathers in jail with minor children (3–17 years old) were recruited from four jails in the Midwest region of the United States. Fathers in jail reported their demographic information, incarceration-related characteristics (e.g., number of prior arrests), children’s exposure to incarceration-related events, and frequency of contact with their children. Results: Four main findings emerged: (1) telephone contact was the most common modality for engaging with children during a paternal jail stay, with 22% of fathers reporting daily phone contact with children, (2) types of contact were correlated, so that more phone contact and letter writing were associated with more frequent visits, (3) White, non-Hispanic fathers and those who did not plan to live with their children upon release were less likely to report telephone contact with their children, and (4) children who witnessed their fathers’ arrest were less likely to write and children who witnessed their fathers’ criminal activity were less likely to visit. Conclusions: Contact between fathers in jail and children has implications for the parent-child relationship. Future research should explore quality of and barriers to contact, including incarceration-related events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-801
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Child
  • Contact
  • Fathers
  • Incarceration
  • Jail
  • Visit

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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