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Incarceration and Intergenerational Social Exclusion

Holly Foster, John Hagan
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2007.54.4.399 399-433 First published online: 1 November 2007


This article explores intergenerational implications, specifically the troubled transitions of the children of incarcerated fathers from adolescence to adulthood. Although crime rates have decreased annually since the early 1990s, the social exclusion of fathers through imprisonment has increased, as has the further exclusion of young adults through homelessness, health-care uninsuredness, and political nonparticipation. Our latent class analysis indicates that 15 percent of youth are socially excluded, an estimate similar to administrative estimates of severely "disconnected" youth. We combine the logic of a cumulative disadvantage theory and the status attainment paradigm with three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to examine the effects of father's imprisonment on the social detainment and exclusion of children during the transition to adulthood. Problems of socialization and strain associated with the incarceration and absence of biological fathers, as well as state sanctioning of youth from these disrupted families, are important aspects of the cumulative process of disadvantage that we identify in these data; however, the interconnected roles of father's incarceration and intergenerational educational detainment are pivotal in producing exclusionary outcomes for children in emerging adulthood. Although there is much evidence that the effects we examine are generic across gender, there is also more specific evidence that the absence of biological fathers from households associated with incarceration leaves daughters at special risk of abuse and neglect by nonbiological father figures and through homelessness during the transition to adulthood.

  • parental incarceration
  • social exclusion
  • life course
  • cumulative disadvantage
  • emerging adulthood

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