Can alternatives to incarceration enhance child well-being?
In this chapter, we consider how alternatives to parental incarceration such as probation and community service could influence child well-being. As an increasing number of studies document a variety of negative outcomes for children with incarcerated parents, the broader use of alternative sentencing may serve as an important buffer against adverse effects of parental incarceration on children. We first discuss what alternatives to incarceration in the USA typically include. Second, we outline theoretical mechanisms through which these alternatives could enhance child well-being. Next, we discuss the data structure needed to rigorously test these alternatives. We then review the limited US-based research on the topic, as well as some of the more rigorous and expansive empirical studies on alternatives to incarceration and child well-being that have been conducted outside of the USA. We conclude with a discussion of key directions to advance research in this area, including a review of promising and ongoing programmatic efforts to implement related policy changes for convicted individuals with minor children.