Quantifying maternal incarceration: a whole-population linked data study of Western Australian children born 1985–2011

Caitlin M. Dowell, David B. Preen, Leonie Segal

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    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: To measure the prevalence of children affected by maternal incarceration in Western Australia (WA). Methods: Using linked administrative data we identified all children born in WA between 1985 and 2011, whose biological mother was imprisoned during their childhood. Data was obtained through the WA Data Linkage Branch from the Department of Corrective Services, Midwives Notifications System and Birth Registrations data collections. Descriptive characteristics of the children (n=9,352) and their mothers (n=3,827) are reported. Prevalence was measured in two-ways, the proportion of children ever affected in childhood and affected annually. Results: Childhood prevalence of maternal incarceration was 26-times higher (95%CI 23.9–28.2) for Indigenous children born 1992–1996 with 18.8% Indigenous children and 0.7% non-Indigenous children affected while aged 0–17 years. On average 1,544 children were affected each year across 2003–2011, at rates of 2,929 per 100,000 Indigenous children and 108 per 100,000 non-Indigenous children. Conclusions: The findings present the first census of children affected by maternal incarceration within an Australian State and identify a large disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Implications for public health: This study highlights the importance of formal consideration of children of women prisoners in the development of criminal justice policies and practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)151-157
    Number of pages7
    JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1 Apr 2017


    • children
    • linked data
    • maternal incarceration
    • prevalence
    • prison

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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