Understanding How Incarceration Challenges Proximal Processes in Father-Child Relationships: Perspectives of Imprisoned Fathers
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Purpose: Parental incarceration is detrimental to most, but not all, children. The mechanisms that drive these findings are largely unknown, but may relate to changes in the parent-child relationship during imprisonment. Furthermore, a parent’s incarceration may serve to “knife off” or restrict opportunities for parenting post-release and for developing non-offending scripts for the future. Our aim was to examine proximal processes between fathers and their children during the imprisonment period in order to understand opportunities for, and disruptions to, parent and child development in the correctional context. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 64 imprisoned fathers across three prisons in Queensland (Australia). Using Bronfenbrenner’s PPCT model, proximal processes were explored in relation to (1) the communication and parenting skills of the father; (2) the prison and family context; and (3) time intervals for exposure (i.e. father-child contact). Results: An absence of developmentally promotive proximal processes characterised many father-child relationships, as well as proximal processes that have the potential to be disruptive to the development of both the father and child/ren. However, some men described high quality, meaningful exchanges with their children through regular visits in a setting conducive to play-based interactions, supplemented by frequent phone calls and letters, all of which was heavily supported by caregivers. Conclusions: Proximal processes were influenced most notably by context, specifically that of prison policies and for some, problematic relationships with caregivers. While further elucidation of the theory is required, the study highlights the need for prison to be considered as a developmental context for parenting.
Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology
Criminology not elsewhere classified