The health and development of young children who witnessed their parent’s arrest prior to parental jail incarceration

Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Luke Muentner, Kaitlyn Pritzl, Hilary Cuthrell, Lauren A Hindt, Laurel Davis, Rebecca J Shlafer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Most U.S. incarceration occurs in jails, with more than 10 million annual admissions, and most individuals in jail are parents of minor children. In this short-term longitudinal study, we examined the health and development of young children who did or did not witness their parent's arrest prior to parental jail incarceration. 228 individuals in 76 triads (incarcerated parents, children, at-home caregivers) were enrolled from four jails in two states. Jailed parents and caregivers reported on whether the child witnessed the parent's arrest or crime. Children's caregivers completed questionnaires about children's emotional symptoms during the prior 6 months and demographics, as well as children's emotional reactions to separation from the parent and child health at the initial assessment and 2 weeks later. Trained researchers conducted a developmental assessment with children while waiting to visit parents. Results of regression-based moderated mediation analyses indicated that when their emotional symptoms were high, children who witnessed parental arrest were more likely to have poorer health initially and more intense negative reactions to the parent leaving for jail. In addition, when children's general emotional symptoms were low, children who witnessed their parent's arrest were more likely to exhibit developmental delays, especially in their early academic skills, compared to children who did not witness the arrest. Witnessing the parent's crime related to missed milestones in social and adaptive development. Findings have implications for policies regarding safeguarding children during parental arrest and referrals for health- and development-promotion services following parental criminal justice system involvement.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4512
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number9
StatePublished - Apr 23 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Arrest
  • Child
  • Criminal justice system
  • Delay
  • Health
  • Incarcerated parents
  • Jail

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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