Strict criminal justice policies, such as long-term sentences, are interfering in the achievement of welfare reform goals to promote marriage and parental involvement. This report analyzes data from the Fragile Families Study to examine the impact of criminal justice policies on the likelihood that unwed parents will form a family together. A total of 3,600 unwed couples and 1,100 married couples are being interviewed at the time of their child's birth and five one-year intervals. Study participants are being recruited from 20 cities with different welfare regimes and labor markets. Preliminary findings from Oakland, California and Austin, Texas suggest that the Fragile Families study has a higher proportion of incarcerated men than other studies because of the age and education characteristics of the sample. In these cities, men who were never incarcerated were twice as likely as former inmates to be married. Former inmates are less likely to have a relationship with their child's mother one year after the baby's birth. Logistic regression using a measure of commitment between the parents reveals that incarceration has a greater effect on weak relationships than strong relationships. The study found that interviews with informants (such as the child's mother) yielded estimates that were more accurate than the data provided during interviews with fathers. The findings suggest that incarceration has a significant negative effect on the ability of fathers to support their children emotionally and financially, resulting in higher crime rates as children become involved in criminal behavior. More support is needed for families affected by incarceration to prevent adverse outcomes for children. 21 references, 5 tables.
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