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'Alarming' Data: 60% Of Poor Young Minorities In Criminal-Case Homes



Nearly four in 10 children in the U.S. grew up in households in which a parent or other adult faced at least one criminal charge, were convicted of a felony or spent time in prison, a University of Michigan study shows.


The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics had published a much lower number, estimating that fewer than 1 in 40 children have a parent in prison in a given year.


The new study of the extent of criminal justice impacts on households was broadened to include criminal charges that do not lead to incarceration and the presence of adults in homes who have faced criminal charges in addition to parents.


“Data limitations have left us in the dark on just how many kids grow up in households with justice involvement,” said Michael Mueller-Smith of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.


Mueller-Smith believes the findings of such widespread "intergenerational exposure to crime and justice is a wake-up call to the failures of our public policy to date. Even if the justice system were completely overhauled today, we will be living with the damage done to current and former generations for decades to come.”


The study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Treasury Department and Criminal Justice Administrative Records System.


Researchers found racial disparity: More than 60% of Black and Native American children from households with below-median income have intergenerational exposure to the justice system—twice the rate of white children.


“Circumstances during early childhood play an important role for a range of lifetime outcomes. It is quite alarming that the modal experience for minority children in the U.S. is one of indirect exposure to the criminal justice system,” said Brittany Street, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of economics at the University of Missouri. “These findings have important implications not just for criminal justice policy, but our overall social policy in the U.S. more generally.”


Experts said early life exposure to criminal justice is correlated with many negative child development outcomes, including cognitive difficulty, being behind in school, teen fertility, teen crime and death by age 18, even after controlling for factors including household income, place of birth, age, sex and race.


The study includes child exposure not only to adults facing serious felony charges but also misdemeanors, which are the vast majority of criminal cases.


Authors said the variety of charges "may reflect adult conduct, apart from the child, that still may put

the child at risk. These might include indications of substance abuse (possession of illicit drugs, abuse of prescription medication, driving while intoxicated), acute financial hard-ship (burglary, fraud, prostitution, robbery, or theft), or emotional and mental instability (disorderly conduct, violent offenses, intimate partner violence)."

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