chapter  4
Growing up with an incarcerated mother: life course trajectories of children of incarcerated mothers in Denmark
Pages 16

Introduction In 2013, there were 14,423 new imprisonments in Danish prisons, of which 1156 were imprisonments of women. The average number of women in all the Danish prisons and jails per day was 171, the corresponding number of men was 3836 per day. These numbers roughly represent the general situation of women’s occupancy in Danish prisons and jails in the period 2003-2013 (Danish Prison and Probation Service [Kriminalforsorgen] 2013).1 As the numbers show, the level of female imprisonment is much lower than it is for men. However, the social implications of female imprisonment are greater than the implications of male imprisonment. Many imprisoned women have children and given that women often are primary caregivers of children, an imprisonment of a mother will subsequently affect the child. Several international studies document that children of incarcerated mothers are a particularly vulnerable group, experiencing multiple risk factors such as poverty, unemployment, repeated shifting of households and caregivers, and out-of-home placements. Studies also indicate that maternal imprisonment has both short and long term consequences for children’s well-being as these children have elevated levels of both externalising and internalising behavior problems, insecure relationships with their mothers and caregivers, risk of school failure and delinquency (Dallaire 2007; Hissel et al. 2011; Murray and Farrington 2005; Myers et al. 1999; Phillips et al. 2007; Poehlmann et al. 2008). These studies underline the vulnerability of children of incarcerated mothers. Studies analyzing maternal imprisonment have primarily been based on selected samples or on qualitative data enabling analysis of the consequences to be thorough. In an extensive literature review primarily of longitudinal analysis, Murray and Farrington (2008) investigate whether parental imprisonment is associated with or causes adverse outcomes for children, why this might be and why some children have poorer outcomes than others following a parental imprisonment. First, they state that only a few studies based on longitudinal data have been carried out in this field. Second, they suggest that children may be more affected by (1) maternal imprisonment than paternal imprisonment, (2) frequent imprisonments or (3) long duration of imprisonment. To validate these suggestions, a large amount of data on parental imprisonment

is required. Due to extensive and continuous registration of the Danish population, we have the possibility to address these suggestions. In the chapter, we first study the characteristics of incarcerated parents and second, the characteristics of the trajectories of maternal incarceration. Thus, we describe the differences between children who experience maternal and paternal imprisonment with respect to socio-economic background factors. Further, we analyze differences in frequencies, as well as the duration of the maternal imprisonment by giving a systematic overview. We categorize similar trajectories of maternal imprisonment and investigate whether these groups are different with respect to socio-economic background. A complete description of all maternal incarcerations children experience throughout a childhood has, to our knowledge, not been carried out. Such a description contributes to the field by showing the variation in maternal carceral trajectories. Even within this relatively small group of children, certain patterns of maternal imprisonment can be detected and identified as contributing to different levels of strain on the children. This chapter provides a description and a systematic overview of two complete cohorts of children born in 1991 and 1992 followed until their 18th birthday. The study relies on national register data on all children born in 1991 and 1992 in Denmark and these data are linked to their mothers’ imprisonment records. To create the systematic overview of maternal imprisonment in the children’s lives we use the technique of sequence analysis (see Brzinsky-Fay et al. 2006 for a detailed description). This technique is uncommon in criminology; however, it allows us to handle a huge amount of information over a long period, analyzing the occurrence(s) of maternal imprisonment as well as the timing, ordering and of quantum imprisonment(s). We define maternal imprisonment as incarceration of the mother while the child is still under age and most often in her care; as such, we are analyzing events that stretch over an 18 year time span. We are describing incarceration of the mother at different ages of the children as it has been found that incarceration affects children differently depending on their level of development (see Hissel 2014). For example, when children are younger they are more dependent on their caregiver. Infants are naturally fully dependent on the care they receive (Currie and Aizer 2014) while older children are more self-sufficient. Also, we investigate whether the incarcerated mother was a single parent. Children who live alone with their mother are in a more vulnerable position if the mother gets incarcerated. This will most likely lead to a change in the care environment and primary caregiver. On the other hand, if the child does not live with the mother (lives with the father, grandparents or in a foster family) and has limited contact with her, the consequences should be less severe.