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Keywords:

  • caregivers;
  • children of incarcerated parents;
  • families of prisoners;
  • collateral consequences of incarceration

While policy makers have long extolled the benefits of incarceration, criminologists have expended considerable effort demonstrating the harmful collateral consequences of incarceration. Sampson (2011) recently challenged researchers to move beyond this dichotomy and to assess the “social ledger” of incarceration, where both the potential benefits and harms associated with incarceration are examined. To shed light on the variation in the collateral consequences of incarceration, we focus on the experiences of a valuable group of individuals directly impacted by imprisonment: those caring for children of incarcerated parents. Drawing from in-depth interviews with a diverse group of caregivers (N= 100), we examine the various consequences (both positive and negative) that occur in their lives as a result of incarceration, as well as the causal processes responsible for the outcomes we observe. Our findings reveal marked variation in the effects of incarceration on caregivers. Such effects are shaped by (1) the prisoner's prior parental involvement, (2) the interpersonal relationship between caregiver and prisoner, and (3) the caregiver's family support system. These findings have important implications for future work conducted on the collateral consequences of incarceration for caregivers, children, and families.