What Is the Relationship Between Incarceration of Children and Adult Health Outcomes?

Published in: Academic Pediatrics (2018). doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2018.06.005

Posted on RAND.org on August 23, 2018

by Elizabeth S. Barnert, Laura S. Abrams, Rebecca N. Dudovitz, Tumaini Coker, Eraka Bath, Lello Tesema, Bergen B. Nelson, Christopher Biely, Paul J. Chung

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We sought to quantify the association between child incarceration in the U.S. and subsequent adult health outcomes.


We analyzed National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health data from 1,727 adult (Wave IV) participants first incarcerated at age <25. Using Chi-squared tests and multivariate logistic regression models, we compare adult health outcomes (mobility limitations, depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts) among those first incarcerated at age ≤14, 15–17, and 18-20, with 21–24 as the reference group.


Of the 1,727 participants, 105 (6.7%) were first incarcerated at age ≤14 ("child incarceration category"), 315 (19.3%) at age 15–17, 696 (38.5%) at age 18–20, and 611 (35.6%) at age 21–24. Those incarcerated as children (age ≤14) were disproportionately black or Hispanic compared to those incarcerated at age 15–24. Compared with first incarceration at age 21–24, child incarceration independently predicted adult mobility limitations (adjusted odds ratio [OR]=3.74; p=0.001), adult depression (OR=1.98; p=0.034), and adult suicidal thoughts (OR= 4.47; p=0.005).


Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.

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