Because a number of problems in childhood and later in life can lead to poor health quality, the researchers employed statistical analysis techniques to account for, or factor out, potentially confounding influences including age, education (which was tightly correlated with income), and the total number of other adverse childhood experiences elicited in the survey. Those included emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as well as exposure to domestic violence, substance abuse, a mentally ill household member, and parental separation or divorce.
Even then, they found the 16-percent greater risk of poor adult health quality among those exposed to an incarceration in their family during childhood.
Last May, in a separate paper based on the same data, Gjelsvik's team found that people with family incarcerations in their youth were more likely as adults to engage in smoking and heavy drinking, after controlling for demographics and additional adverse childhood events.
Gjelsvik acknowledged that the studies leave open questions because they did not measure which family member was sent to prison, when, for what reason, or for how long.
But the overall findings argue against sentencing policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, Gjelsvik said. Incarceration can be necessary, but greater appropriate use of alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, such as drug courts, could spare some innocent children from a lifetime of reduced health.
"I'm not saying don't incarcerate people," she said. "But we ne
|Contact: David Orenstein|