Studies on stigma and incarceration

Stigma and children with justice involved parents

  • Many studies have documented how incarcerated individuals are stigmatized and judged harshly
  • A growing body of research has examined how the stigmatization extends to children with incarcerated parents
  • For example, children with incarcerated parents often describe being bullied and teased at school because of their parent’s incarceration

Elementary school children stigmatize peers with incarcerated parents

Across two studies of 5-6 year olds and 7-8 year olds, findings include:
  • Children indicated that hypothetical peers with incarcerated mothers (vs hypothetical peers without incarcerated mothers) were less likely to have moral beliefs (e.g., Does this person think that hitting another person is wrong?”)
  • Children reported more pessimism about hypothetical peers with, versus without, incarcerated mothers
  • Children gave fewer stickers to hypothetical peers with, versus without, incarcerated mothers

Teachers stigmatize school children with incarcerated parents

Across two studies of teachers, findings include:

  • Study 1: Teachers reported that children with incarcerated parents experience stigmatization in the school setting and children with incarcerated mothers are considered especially at risk
  • Study 2: Teachers randomly assigned to a hypothetical scenario describing a girl whose mother is away at prison rated the child as less competent than teachers randomly assigned to scenarios in which the child’s mother was described as being away for other reasons


Probably because of unconscious bias, which you already know quite a bit about because you completed the NMRN Unconscious Bias Course

Children with incarcerated parents report managing the experience of being stigmatized in a variety of ways:

  • Maintaining privacy
  • Withholding information
  • Self-exclusion
  • Self-reliance
  • Managing relationships

Course Syllabus

Not Enrolled
Scope of the Issue
Does the US really incarcerate more people than any other country in the world?
How has the number of people incarcerated in the US changed over time?
Key terms
How many people are arrested each year in the US?
Why are there such stark racial and economic inequities in incarceration in the US?
What role do jails play in mass incarceration?
How many people are on probation or parole?
How many women are incarcerated in the US?
Section 1 Quiz
Intersecting Vulnerabilities
What proportion of people who are incarcerated have health and mental health concerns?
What proportion of people who are incarcerated have substance use disorders?
Co-occurence of mental health and substance use disorders in people who were arrested
How are biomedical scientists re-envisioning how the justice system responds to the opioid crisis?
Pregnant women and substance use disorder
Nora’s blog: Pregnant people with substance use disorders need treatment, not criminalization
Section 2 Quiz
"We Are Just Kids"
How many parents are incarcerated in the US?
How many children have a parent incarcerated in jail or prison in the US?
Where do children live during parental incarceration?
Parental incarceration as an adverse childhood experience
What child outcomes are associated with parental incarceration?
Is parental incarceration ever helpful for children?
Does parental incarceration affect children differently depending on the child’s age at the time of the experience?
What is associated with increased stress for children with incarcerated parents?
A parent’s arrest, even if it does not lead to incarceration, can also be challenging for children
Racial Inequities in Arrests
Stressors associated with parental justice system involvement
Stressors and recidivism
Resilience processes for children are more likely when ...
From Stigma to Support
Studies on stigma and incarceration
The language that we use
Can you change your thinking?
Sesame Street in Communities
Listening to youth voices
What can HBCD teams do to support justice-involved families in research?
How policies can respond to parental incarceration
Further reading
Section 4 Quiz
Closing video