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Excerpted From: Amanda NeMoyer, Ye Wang, Kiara Alvarez, Glorisa Canino, Cristiane S. Duarte, Hector Bird and Margarita Alegría, Parental Incarceration During Childhood and Later Delinquent Outcomes among Puerto Rican Adolescents and Young Adults in Two Contexts, 44 Law and Human Behavior 143 (April 2020) (Reference List) (Full Document)


Objective: Childhood parental incarceration has been linked to increased rates of delinquency and arrest during adolescence and young adulthood; however, previous research has focused on White and/or Black samples rather than Latinx youth. We examined relationships between childhood parental incarceration and later delinquency and arrest among Puerto Rican youth living in Puerto Rico (majority context) and the mainland United States (minority context). Hypotheses: We expected that childhood parental incarceration would be significantly linked to delinquent behavior and arrest. In line with acculturation theory, we hypothesized that residence (proxy for minority status) would be significantly related to delinquent outcomes and that an interaction effect would emerge between parental incarceration and residence. Method: Longitudinal data from the Boricua Youth Study were examined for 1,294 Puerto Rican youth from the South Bronx, NY (minority context) and greater San Juan, PR (majority context). We conducted a series of negative binomial and logistic regressions to determine the effects of parental incarceration and residence in childhood on self-reported delinquent behavior and arrest in adolescence and young adulthood, while also examining factors previously linked to delinquency in Puerto Rican youth. Results: Childhood parental incarceration and South Bronx residence were both linked to delinquent behavior but not arrest, even when simultaneously examining several individual, diagnostic, environment/social, and family factors reported in childhood. However, we did not observe an interaction effect between parental incarceration and residence for either outcome. Conclusions: Findings suggest that Puerto Rican youth with histories of parental incarceration could benefit from targeted programs aimed at preventing future delinquency.

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An estimated 54% of the nation's incarcerated population are parents, and more than five million children in the United States have experienced parental incarceration. This experience is particularly prevalent among youth of color, as African American and Latinx youth are significantly more likely than White youth to have a parent in jail or prison. Children with this experience regularly demonstrate negative outcomes in several behavioral, emotional, and health-related domains compared to youth with no such history. In particular, they appear to be at increased risk for delinquent behavior and arrest. However, prior studies investigating delinquent outcomes among youth with incarcerated parents have often failed to examine these relationships among Latinx youth. Latinx youth frequently demonstrate distinct risk factors (e.g., acculturative stress, perceived discrimination, family conflict) and protective factors (e.g., enculturation, familism, parenting strategies) for delinquency compared to youth from other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Of note, some of these factors may largely only be applicable to Latinx youth (e.g., acculturation, enculturation, cultural stress), whereas others may apply to youth more broadly, but seem to have a comparatively stronger impact on Latinx youth (e.g., family conflict). Given the likelihood for Latinx youth to have an incarcerated parent and their distinct risk factors for delinquency, investigation into the potential effects of this experience among Latinx youth is warranted.

Throughout this article, we use the term “Latinx” as a gender-neutral term to be inclusive of individuals whose identities may not align with a gender binary that could be inferred from the use of “Latino/a”. Recognizing that, as a descriptor, “Latinx” encompasses multiple subgroups representing different countries and cultures of origin, this study aims to contribute to addressing the existing research gap by investigating the relation between childhood parental incarceration and delinquent outcomes among a sample of Puerto Ricans, part of the second largest Latinx subgroup in the United States (Flores, 2017). Further, we examine this relation in two contexts--one in which Puerto Ricans are the majority population (i.e., in Puerto Rico) and one in which they represent a minority group (i.e., in the United States)--to better understand the ways in which stressors that accompany minority status might affect the development of delinquent behaviors.

[. . .]

Experiencing parental incarceration during childhood has been linked to several negative outcomes, including an increased risk for delinquent behavior and arrest. However, before the current study, research in this area had largely been conducted with samples of White and/or Black youth. Our findings from a longitudinal research study spanning childhood to young adulthood contribute to closing this research gap and suggest that Puerto Rican youth who experience childhood parental incarceration may also demonstrate increased risk for later delinquent behavior, but not necessarily increased risk of arrest. Other individual, family, and environmental risk and protective factors were identified and might identify useful targets for future delinquency prevention programs within this population. Given that Latinx youth are one of the largest and fastest-growing youth populations in the United States (Lopez, Krogstad, & Flores, 2018), future research should prioritize further characterizing modifiable risk and protective factors among Latinx samples to prevent delinquency and promote optimal youth outcomes.

Amanda NeMoyer, Disparities Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School;

Ye Wang, Disparities Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital; Kiara Alvarez, Disparities Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School;

Glorisa Canino, Behavioral Sciences Research Institute, Medical School, University of Puerto Rico;

Cristiane S. Duarte and Hector Bird, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute;

Margarita Alegría, Disparities Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.

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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law