Process as Intergenerational Punishment: Are Children Casualties of Parental Court Experiences?
20 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2016 Last revised: 3 Feb 2016
Date Written: January 29, 2016
Ground-breaking work by Malcolm Feeley established that the experience of criminal court processing can feel like punishment to a defendant, separate and apart from the outcome of the criminal case. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether that effect extends beyond the offender to his or her family, particularly children, and whether this effect exists even before incarceration is imposed.
There exists a significant body of literature that links parental incarceration to negative outcomes for children of prisoners (e.g., poor socialization, behavioral problems, poor school outcomes, etc.) Criminologists have also tied early childhood exposure to traumatic experiences (such as violence and deprivation) to later criminality. But neither of these literatures has specifically investigated the effect of criminal court processing of parents on their children, particularly when children witness court appearances or hearings.
We interviewed prosecutors and active offenders in a major southeastern city to identify their perceptions of the short and long term effects of witnessing court processing on children of offenders. Our interviews suggest that such experiences could have deleterious effects similar to those observed in research on the effects of parental incarceration. We conclude by offering some policy suggestions for how the court system might mitigate these effects in the future.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation