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Public Policy and Administration


Karel Kurst-Swanger


Increasing rates of maternal incarceration are potentially linked to development of delinquency in the children of these mothers. Current literature points to the intergenerational transmission of criminality that may result in future low socioeconomic status and unemployment for children of incarcerated mothers, yet little of this literature addresses the link between maternal incarceration and juvenile delinquency. Using attachment theory as the foundation, the purpose of this quantitative correlational study was to assess correlation between maternal incarceration and juvenile delinquency, as well as investigate the mediating role of child gender, race, current relationship with the primary caregiver, and disciplinary environment. The sample was obtained from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (FFWCS) conducted by faculty at Princeton and Columbia Universities. The pre-existing dataset includes data on 5,000 children born in the United States between 1998 and 2000 and their mothers. Mothers were interviewed and the sample size for this study was 5,000 adults. The quantitative analysis revealed no significant relationship between maternal incarceration and their children’s delinquency. No mediating effects were found for child gender, race, current relationship with the primary caregiver, or disciplinary environment. In all, the study’s findings complicate understandings of childhood delinquency, offering impetus for further studies, both to replicate these findings and to establish other causal factors. The identification of such factors may guide policy makers to look at existing policies to determine their need and effectiveness. Officials for corrections, welfare services, and family-support agencies may need to develop policies to allow incarcerated mothers and their children to maintain regular contact.