Alabama Family Rights Association

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  The Risks To Which Our Courts Expose Our Children
Incarceration (Jail)

Fatherless youth at higher risk for jail - study

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families, according to a new study released Thursday.

Cynthia Harper of the University of Pennsylvania and Sara S. McLanahan of Princeton University tracked a sample of
6,000 males aged 14-22 from 1979-93.

They found that those boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated --
even when other factors such as race, income, parent education and urban residence were held constant.

Surprisingly, those boys who grow up with a step-father in the home were at even higher risk for incarceration, roughly
three times that of children who remain with both of their natural parents, according to a study being presented at a
meeting of the American Sociological Association Friday.

``Remarriage of parents doesn't help,'' Harper said. ``A step-parent in the household doesn't erase the father absent

The sociologists launched their study in an effort to shed new light on the increase of youth violence between the late
1980's and early 1990's.

``It has become a lot less unusual for youth to become involved in violent crime,'' Harper said. ``I wanted to see if there
was any connection between youth violence and major family changes that have occurred over the last few decades.''

Overall, the U.S. youth crime rate rose by 43 percent between 1989 and 1993. Since then, however, the youth violent
crime rate dropped by about 25 percent, according to Justice Department figures.

Officials have credited the drop, which mirrored a wider drop in overall crime rates, in part to new community policing
initiatives and tougher penalties for youth crime.

Still, juveniles accounted for nearly one out of five arrests for violent crimes in 1996. And youths aged 12 to 17 were
three times as likely as adults to be victims of a violent crime in 1994, Justice Department figures show.

Incarceration can lead to further crime, according to specialists. A 1997 study at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
found that juveniles who went to jail were twice as likely to commit another crime than those who were sent to a
alternative programs.

The study of 271 at-risk youths also found that the juveniles sent to jail were three times more likely to commit a violent
crime than those sent to other programs.

Harper and McLanahan's study found that young men whose parents part ways during their adolescence were roughly
1-1/2 times as likely to end up in jail as children from intact families -- faring slightly better than boys who are born to
single mothers.

It also found that, while whites have lower rates of father absenteeism than blacks, when families do split white youth are
at a higher risk of incarceration than their black peers.

Child support payments did not appear to make a significant difference in the odds of incarceration, but the presence of
live-in grandparents in households without fathers ``appears to help improve youths' chances of avoiding incarceration,''
the study found.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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