Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



One in 12 children will have a parent incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, with a staggering rate of one in four for African American children (Wildeman et al., 2018). Though the incarcerated populations have been in decline across the United States in the past decade (Carson, 2020), its impact still dwarfs that of most other countries (Coyle et al., 2016). The long-term residual consequences of the country’s imprisonment binge are likely to burden later generations through a myriad of social and economic disadvantages that extend through the children of today’s prisoners. Consequences may manifest in terms of social exclusion, poor parental attachment, developmental problems, behavioral and mental health issues, adverse school performance, antisocial attitudes, and even criminal activity (Thulstrup & Karlsson, 2017; Venema et al., 2021; Wildeman et al., 2018). Further, these consequences will disproportionately impact children of historically disadvantaged populations. It was estimated about five million children experienced a form of parental incarceration in 2012, roughly seven percent of the youth population (Thulstrup & Karlsson, 2017). Though specific population counts for North Dakota are unknown, the Annie E Casey Foundation estimated about 10,000 children (7%) have experienced parental incarceration (Campbell, 2016). Attempts are underway by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) to examine this issue through its Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIP) initiative.

As Wildeman and colleagues (2018) note, despite a large increase in empirical interest on the topic of parental incarceration, the state of the literature in terms of what works is decidedly sparse. In this research brief we focus on those interventions, pertinent to COIP, that have received considerable empirical attention as demonstrated by the existence of a systematic review. Systematic reviews are a means by which authors synthesize large volumes of research. While conceptually similar to a literature review, systematic reviews reduce the likelihood of selection bias by clearly documenting and mapping the selection criteria and reasons for inclusion or exclusion of a given work. This also allows for such reviews to be replicated and expanded on by subsequent scholars (for a more detailed explanation see Cooper, 2010; Weisburd et al., 2016, pp. 6-8). In addition, they may also combine statistical information from multiple studies through a process known as meta-analysis (for more see Borenstein et al., 2009). This work is a review of systematic reviews pertaining to COIP interventions.


Report produced for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (ND DOCR) Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative