Children of Incarcerated Parents | The Effects

There are more than 2.7 million children of incarcerated parents in the U.S.  That is 1 in 28 children. Just 25 years ago the number was 1 in 125.

Due to the research I did on the criminal justice system, related YouTube videos are being generated as options for me to view.  I couldn’t help but notice the statistics of children of incarcerated parents.  This subject isn’t a favorite subject to address, but I feel it is important for people to clearly understand the consequences of incarcerating parents.

Mass Incarceration

If you haven’t read my blog “Helping Rather than Condemning – Tough on Crime Failed”  I encourage you to read it to understand the problems surrounding mass incarceration in the United States prior to reading the remainder of this blog.

Children of Incarcerated Parents Statistics

Following are 2014 statistics concerning children of incarcerated parents.  I wanted to find more recent statistics but these 2014 numbers are the most recent available.

  • There are more than 2.7 million children of incarcerated parents in the U.S.  That is 1 in 28 children. Just 25 years ago the number was 1 in 125.
  • Approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives.
  • Approximately half of the children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.
  • About 15‐20% of children entering the child welfare system have an incarcerated parent.  Many children of incarcerated parents are in foster care.
  •  A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the number of parents held in state and federal prisons increased by 79% between 1991 and midyear 2007. And half of the mothers (52%) and fathers (54%) in state prisons reported that they were the primary provider for their children before their incarceration.
  • More than 5 million US children (or 1 in 14 children) have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their lives reported in 2016.

Incarcerated Women

The number of women in prison increased by 587% between 1980 and
2011, rising from 15,118 to 111,387.  This increase is alarming and is affecting millions of U.S. children.

Majority of women have committed non-violent crimes

80% of women are in jail for non-violent crimes.  A high percentage of which are in for drug offenses, and because of the “war on drugs”,  the sentences have become longer and harsher resulting in children being raised without mothers.

As I mentioned in my blog about helping people rather than condemning them,  if an inmate is in jail at a rounded off rate of $70,000 per year (does not include inflation costs over the span of years), the cost would be a one million four hundred thousand (1,400,000) for 20 years of incarceration which isn’t unusual due to the “War on Drugs and Tough on Crime” campaigns.

Drug rehab a much less expensive option

An offender could go through drug rehab more than once with the money that is being spent to incarcerate a person.  Since the majority of women are in prison for drug offenses (non-violent crimes), they could stay with their children under home arrest while they attend a drug rehab program.  Drug rehab has the potential to solve problems versus incarceration which creates more problems, lots more problems.

Emotional Scars

Being without a parent, studies show especially a mother, often causes children to have emotional problems such as anxiousness, depression, or withdrawal.  Children are traumatized by separation when a parent is abruptly taken away.

Sentencing children along with their parents

Children of incarcerated parents are negatively affecting many families because 70% of women are the primary caretakers of at least two children as presented in the following YouTube video.  This is sentencing and punishing innocent children who have committed no crime.  Leaving mothers and fathers in prison away from their children for long periods of time is a huge societal mistake that is a growing national problem.

This video briefly addresses why so many women are in prison


Caregivers of children with parents in prison:

  • Bear numerous burdens including stigma and shame associated with having a family member in prison
  • Increased financial strain
  • Physical and emotional stress
  • Lack of external resources

Caregiver obstacles

  • Public assistance programs are not designed with relative caregivers in mind. Grandparents are reluctant to seek for help for fear of losing their grandchildren.
  • Caring for children who are experiencing the stigma and blame
    associated with parental incarceration is particularly difficult for

Problems preventing children from seeing or talking to their incarcerated parent

  • Most prisons are not accessible by any form of public transportation and because of restrictions on child‐parent visits, more than 50% of incarcerated parents never receive a visit from their children.
  • Collect phone calls from prisoners are subject to excessive surcharges,
    an economic burden most caregivers cannot afford. One report I read said that a 15-minute phone call to speak to an inmate is $17, a terrible burden for the poor.

Impact of Arrests

One study conducted in 1998 estimated when parents are arrested:

  • 67% were handcuffed in front of their children
  • 27% reported weapons drawn in front of their children
  • 4.3% reported a physical struggle
  •  3.2% reported the use of pepper spray
  • Children who witnessed an arrest of a household member were
    57% more likely to have elevated posttraumatic stress symptoms
    compared to children who did not witness an arrest.

What can we each do to help children of incarcerated parents?  Vote for prosecutors (see my blog why voting in local elections makes a positive difference) who believe in helping rather than condemning offenders while maintaining accountability.

Top Featured Photo by Liliia Beda

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