Prevalence of Aggressive Behavior among
Children Co-Detained with Imprisoned Mothers in
a Selected Prison of North India
Shilpi Sarkar1 and Sandhya Gupta2*
1Faculty-Child Health Nursing, Rufaida College of Nursing, Jamia Handard University, New Delhi
2Faculty-Mental Health Nursing, College of Nursing, AIIMS, New Delhi
Sandhya Gupta, Faculty-Mental Health Nursing, College of Nursing, AIIMS, New Delhi, E-mail:
Received: March 17, 2017; Accepted: September 26, 2017; Published: November 26, 2017
Citation: Shilpi S, Sandhya G (2017) Prevalence of Aggressive Behavior among Children Co-Detained with Imprisoned Mothers in a Selected Prison of North India. Int J Pediatr Child Care: Open Access 2(1): 1-5.
Background: Prison environment cannot be same as that of home environment. A home is comprised by family members and safety umbrella of elements of basic needs essential for child growth and development. In the prison, children co-detained with imprisoned mother are surrounded by other imprisoned women and various restricted environmental factors. Environment has major influence to mould the innate tendency of
aggressive behavior in the children. The objective of this study was to identify the prevalence and severity of aggressive behavior among children
co-detained with imprisoned mothers.
Methods: The data was collected from the imprisoned mothers of co-detained children by direct interview technique. A structured interview
schedule was used for collecting information related to child’s aggressive behavior. A total of sixteen co-detained children in the age group of three
to five years were included in the study.
Results: The aggressive behavior was found to be present in 13(16) co-detained children with the prevalence of 81%. As far as severity of
aggressive behavior is concerned, 19% of co-detained children had mild or no aggressive behavior, 31% had moderate aggressive behavior and 50%
had severe aggressive behavior.
Conclusion: More than three fourth of co-detained children in the age group of three to five years were found to have moderate to severe
aggressive behavior warranting the need from prison authority to develop appropriate strategies to control child exposure to violent environmental
factors (real or virtual).
Keywords: Pleural; Imaging; Ultrasound; Malignancy; Surgery.
Aggressive behavior is an intentional behavior that threatens
or causes physical or emotional harm to self or others. It can
range from verbal abuse to the destruction of a victim’s personal
property . According to Baron and Richardson, “Aggression” is
defined as any behavior intended to harm another person who
does not want to be harmed . According to Loeber R, Violence
is aggression that has extreme harm as its goal [e.g., death] .
Occasional outbursts of aggression are common and even normal
but becomes a problem if frequently occurs. Children with
different age groups have different ways of expressing aggression.
Aggressive symptoms may change with developmental
competence in motor and cognitive domains. Violent behavior in
children and adolescents can include a wide range of behaviors:
explosive temper tantrums, physical aggression, fighting, threats
or attempts to hurt others [including homicidal thoughts], use
of weapons, cruelty toward animals, fire setting, intentional
destruction of property and vandalism . According to Joy D,
childhood exposure to violence is associated with a variety of
aggressive and maladaptive behaviors that can disrupt children’s
school adaptation and academic competence . Violence
exposure can lead to disturbances in cognitive functioning,
emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, behavior and
peer problems, self injury and injury to others, increased physical
punishment by parents, decreased peer interactions, expulsion
from child care and school settings and in the long term, they are
more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem later
in life .
Childhood aggression was reported to be linked to the
maternal criminal history . The prison barrack is most often
characterized by overcrowding and excessive noise level. Codetained
child is directly influenced by other prison inmate
mothers and their behavioral characteristics that often fight and
abuse verbally and physically. The present article identifies the
occurrence and severity of aggressive behavior in the prison
environment among children co-detained with imprisoned
Causes of Aggression in Children
Man is the product of genetics and environment. Nature and
nurture are partners in the development of people interaction
with the environment. Human behavior is shaped by our genetic
make up and environmental influences . Some physical factors
like extreme heat, overcrowding, loud noises, and unpleasant
odors has shown to increase aggression [7, 8].
Genetics factor include an “aggressive predisposition”,
“something inbuilt” in a child’s “genes” or “mental make-up”. No
two children or families are alike indicating the genetics factor as
the reason for behavioral differences. Temperament is that aspect
of personality that seems to be controlled by genetics. There are
basically three types of temperament- easy or flexible [60 percent
of children], fearful and sensitive [25 percent of children] and
feisty or difficult [15 percent of children] . Infants with difficult
temperaments are more likely found to be aggressive and have
behavioral difficulties in later childhood . Olson et al revealed
that preschoolers prenatally exposed to alcohol were found to be
hyperactive, have frequent temper tantrums and have difficulties
with transitions .
Environmental influences or “nurture” include experiences of
the child to real-life and the virtual world. Children tend to mimic
or copy whatever they observe in real world or virtual world
[television or video games]. Berkowitz L found that children in
their various developmental stages are most vulnerable to be
influenced by aggressive environment [Real or virtual] than the
adults as the adults already developed their own sets of morals
and values and seeing aggression wouldn’t affect them so much
. There are two major elements of child real environment
that includes home and second one is society. The potential
components of environment that could expose the children
to aggressive behavior are shown in Figure 1. How people
behave is silently observed by the young children and later
on experimented in real life situations. According to Mitrofan
et al, the environmental influences can add to child’s genetic
predispositions, or pre-existing behavioural problems. Reallife
aggression can be verbal [people shouting or abusing each
other] or physical [fighting]. When people try to solve problems
with physical violence, children mistakenly learn that this is
an appropriate behavior. The real life aggression has stronger
behavioural effects on children .
Violence in the virtual life situations
The widespread exposures to violent virtual world or
entertainment media contribute to the high level of violence
and aggression in modern societies . Children, who cannot
distinguish between reality and fiction, often “imitate” their
favorite virtual “hero”. So if they pick up violent stuff, it’s more
likely they will grow up to be like that”. Just as educational
videogames is used in schools, according to Sherry J, violent
videogames can teach aggression and increases aggressive
behavior in children  and according to Gentile DA it develops
appetite to see more violent entertainment and they become
more aggressive and violent .
Figure 1: Component of Child Environment
A quantitative study, cross- sectional design, the data of
present study was collected from one Central prison meant for
women complex of Delhi. The sample of present study comprised
of co-detained children, their imprisoned mothers and prison
staff working in prison crèche. Each co-detained child with
imprisoned mother was considered as one pair was enrolled
by total enumeration technique, three prison staff members
working in the prison crèche, sixteen co-detained children in
the age group of three years to five years and their imprisoned
mothers were enrolled in the study. Tools used: According to
Egger and Emde, problematic behaviors at the young age are
typically grouped into clusters of behaviors or syndromes [e.g.,
hitting, biting] . Therefore a self structured rating scale was
developed to assess aggressive behavior among children and that
included five sub categories of aggressive behaviors. The purpose
of that scale was to examine co-detained child in the age group of
3-5 years for occurrence of aggressive behavior. The aggressive
behavior studied were: temper tantrum, verbal hostility to other
children [teasing, threats, taunts], physical hostility to other
children [hitting, pinching, kicking, pushing, biting], hits or slaps
own body parts, use of abusive language. The score interpretation
was as severe aggression, moderate aggression or absent/mild
Permission was obtained from prison authority for the
study. Informed written consent was\ obtained from imprisoned
mothers for their participation and participation of their children
in the study. Verbal assent was obtained from the co-detained
children to win their cooperation in the study.
Only those co-detained children who were attending crèche
at the time of data collection were enrolled in the study.
Procedure of data collection
Permission was obtained from prison authority for the data
collection for the study. After initial screening, all co-detained
children in the age group of three to five years were selected for
the study. Information about the study purpose and method was
explained to the prison crèche staff and imprisoned mothers.
Doubts and questions were answered. Informed written consent
was obtained from the mothers and prison crèche staff for their
participation and participation of their co-detained children.
Verbal assent was obtained from children to win their cooperative
participation. Prison staff members of the crèche were
interviewed all together to rate each individual child’s behavior
using the tool “Aggressive behavior inventory for children”.
A total of sixteen co-detained children in the age group of
three to five years were included in the study. Out of sixteen codetained
children, 13 [81%, 95% C.I: 57% - 93%] were found to
have moderate to severe grades of aggressive behavior and only
3 [19%, 95% C.I: 6.5% - 43%] were having mild aggression or no
aggression (Figure. 2).
Severity of aggressive behavior scores among co-detained
children is shown in (Figure 3), only nineteen percentage (95%
C.I: 6.5% - 43%,) of co-detained children were having mild or no
aggressive behavior whereas, most of the co-detained children
were having either moderate 31% (95% C.I: 14% - 55%) or sever
aggressive behavior 50% (95% C.I: 28% - 72%).
Figure 2: Prevalence of aggression in Co-detrained children
Figure 3: Severity of aggressive behavior among co-detained children
It is evident from the Table 1 that out of 16 pre-school age
children, there were eight co-detained children who were having
severe aggressive behavior in all aggressive behavior types that is
temper tantrum, teasing/threats, hitting others, hitting self and
use of abusive language.
Table 1: Distribution of co-detained children according to types of
Types of aggressive behavior
Severity of aggressive behavior
Teasing, threats, taunts
Hitting, pinching, kicking, pushing, biting
Hits or slaps own body parts
Use of abusive language
Aggression in young children was reported by Bor W, to be
a stronger predictor of delinquency than gender (being male),
poverty, family structure and maternal education. It increases a
child’s risk of delinquency by a factor of 4.48. . In the prison,
imprisoned mother is the only support system for co-detained
child, there is lack of father’s role and often there is dominance
of aggressive behavior of other imprisoned mothers. Aggressive
behavior can adversely affect the physical and psychological
health of the children.
Home versus prison environment
Home includes parents, siblings and other family member.
They act as role model for the children. Unlike home, in prison
imprisoned mother is the only family member for the child.
According to Joy D et al, behavior problems that emerge in a child
following exposure to violence can be thought of as stemming
from a lack of appropriate role models, difficulties with emotion
regulation skills and aberrant information processing .
Aggression in the parental behavior, family dysfunction and
parental attitude greatly influence child behavior. The presence
of siblings who serve as a target for aggression is an indirect
effect and increases the risk of becoming physically aggressive
in the high aggression trajectory group . The impact of family
arguing and physical violence is long standing, with implications
for deviated adult behavior and functioning in later years .
Community violence versus violent behavior inside
Community violence includes exposure of the children to
violence in the school, park and peer group. When children see
people getting violent and getting positive benefits they get
positively reinforced to practice violence in their life. Inside the
prison, sometimes unhealthy behavior of imprisoned mothers
(shouting, abusing, frequent fights etc) may get dominated and
children might learn the characteristics of unhealthy behavior
which is awarding in terms of fulfillment of needs irrespective of
whether good or bad nature of behavior. It has been observed by
Mitrofan O that when people try to solve problems with physical
violence, children mistakenly learn aggressive behavior as an
appropriate behavior .
Imprisoned mothers’ behavior
Parents are the best modeling character for children.
Imprisoned mother is the only support system for co-detained
child. In addition to this there is lack of father’s role and there is
dominance of aggressive behavior of other imprisoned mothers.
Usually children learn to mimic the parental behavior. According
to Weiss B, parents who frequently exercise aggression in the
form of verbal or physical discomfort to manage their child’s
behavior were far more likely found to have aggressive children
than parents who use more positive strategies . Parental
aggressive behavior such as scolding, threatening, yelling, and
battering encourages a child to deal with their problems in the
very same ways. Verbal aggression in parents, even in the absence
of physical aggression was found [Vissing YM 1991] to be linked
to aggression as well as delinquency and interpersonal problems
among children . According to Campbell, pre-school children
are more likely to show overactive, noncompliant, aggressive
and impulsive behavior in the context of uninvolved, rejecting or
harsh parenting .
Co-detained child’s situation in prsion is more or less similar to
single parent family and there is evidence that single parenthood,
divorce and reconstituted families, poverty, maternal depression,
alcohol and substance abuse, all have been positively related
to children’s aggressive behaviors. Children from homes where
domestic violence is occurring are reported (Mathias JL, Stenberg
and Mertin M) to more likely exhibit aggressive behavior [22,24].
Anti-social parental attitude
Imprisoned mother might have difficulty to regulate the
behavior of co-detained children in the common living room. The
link between parental antisocial attitudes and violent behavior
of children has been reported by Hawkins et al  Parents who
don’t discourage aggressive behavior in children are reported by
Gottfredson as indirectly giving permission to be aggressive by
their own parents .
Television watching by the co-detained children
Children stay with their imprisoned mothers all together
in a common barrack. There is only one television for the
entertainment of all inmates of the barrack. Television programs
are reported (Fried et al., 2000; Gupta et al., 2001) to provoke
aggressive fantasies and aggressive behavior among children and
preschoolers seem to be most susceptible [27,28].
Inside the prison mother is the only support system for
the child. It has been reported by Hagen KA et al that children
with low levels of social support have more externalizing and
internalizing problems . It has been repeatedly reported
in previous studies by Briggs-Gowan MJ et al and Essex MJ et
al that young children with recurrent and comorbid aggressive
behavior have the most impairment, greater problem stability
and higher subsequent utilization of mental health services [30,
31]. Therefore, co-detained children experiencing aggressive
behavior demand special provisions and practices on the part
of prison authority and government. Some of the practices
may include child counseling services, parenting educational
programs for mothers, training of the crèche teachers to manage
aggressive behavior in the initial stages.
Children co-detained with imprisoned mothers are inevitably
exposed to aggressive environmental influence created by other
imprisoned women. More than three fourth of co-detained
children in the age group of three to five years were found to
have moderate to severe aggressive behavior warranting the
need from prison authority to develop appropriate strategies to
control child exposure to violent environmental factors (real or
If violence exposure can be terminated, the plasticity in
children’s developmental processes might promote recovery of
their behavior. Therefore prison authority must adopt certain
rules to prevent environmental exposure of violence (virtual or
real) to the co-detained children.
Implication of the study
Strict prison policy is required against the use of abusive
language and prevention of frequent fights among prisoners. The
prison should develop strategies to avoid exposure of children
to violent TV programs. The prison should plan child counseling
services for the aggressive children. Parenting classes needs to
be organized for imprisoned mothers. Training of the teachers
in crèche to manage aggressive behavior of the child in the early
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