Punished for Their Fathers? School Discipline and the Social Exclusion of Children of the Prison Boom

Wade C. Jacobsen, Pennsylvania State University

By the late 2000s the US incarceration rate had risen to more than 4 times what it was in the mid-1970s, and school suspension rates more than doubled. Many incarcerated men are fathers, yet prior research has not examined the influence of paternal incarceration on children’s risk of school discipline. Literature suggests multiple causal pathways: externalizing behaviors, lower parental involvement in school, and intergenerational stigmatization. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, I examine the effects of recent paternal incarceration on risk of exclusionary school discipline among urban nine year-olds. Results suggest that (1) recent paternal incarceration increases children’s risk of being suspended or expelled from school; (2) effects are largely due to student behavioral problems; (3) beyond behavior problems, effects are not due to lower parental school involvement following incarceration; and (4) although risk is highest for blacks and boys, effects do not vary by race or gender.

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Presented in Session 39: Parental Incarceration and Child Well-Being