Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


The Intergenerational Transmission of Criminal Justice Contact: The Role of Parenthood, Early Adulthood Outcomes, and Gender

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Wendy D. Manning (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kefa M. Otiso (Other)

Third Advisor

Peggy C. Giordano (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Monica A. Longmore (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Raymond Russell Swisher (Committee Member)


Each year over a million individuals are held in U.S. jails or prisons. Even as research has been dedicated to the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact, the underlying mechanisms have yet to be clearly established. Despite the attention paid to parental incarceration, researchers have not focused on the intersection between family processes and criminal justice contact. Scholars have ignored how parenthood influences criminal justice contact, and in effect leads to another generation exposed to parental criminal justice experience. Similarly, the bulk of prior studies have been limited to examining father’s incarceration experiences and have omitted the role of mother’s incarceration. Using five waves of the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS), I investigated whether intervening life course experiences, such as parenthood, may influence the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact. Also, rather than focus simply on a direct transmission approach (criminal justice contact of the parent and child), I considered how parental incarceration influences consequential behavioral and well-being indicators in young adulthood. The TARS data afforded an opportunity to account for key parental and respondent behavioral and contextual factors that may explain the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact. I expand on prior work by identifying gender differentials in how parental incarceration influences these outcomes. The main findings regarding the role of parenthood indicated a strong association between the entrance to parenthood and probability of criminal justice contact, and this was particularly strong for women. The respondent’s criminal behavior explained the effect of parental incarceration suggesting that parental incarceration operated through criminal activity. It appeared that maternal more so than paternal incarceration influenced the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact. Maternal incarceration also influenced the odds of early adulthood substance use and depressive symptoms, while paternal incarceration had a stronger association for men compared to women’s depressive symptoms. In sum, my dissertation findings underscored the nuances in the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact through incorporating family processes, and accounting for how parental incarceration may work through behavioral and contextual factors.