Issues & Facts

Today, close to 2.7 million American children — or 1 in 28 children — have an incarcerated parent. Just 25 years ago, this was 1 in 125. (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010). These are some of the many facts that tell the story of incarceration in the U.S., and its impact on children. Take a few minutes to read these statistics, reflect on them, and then support our efforts to help make life better for these children. Here are the facts: (Source:

  • 1 out of 9 African-American school-aged children have an incarcerated parent. (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010).
  • More than half of incarcerated parents in state prisons and almost half of parents in federal prisons have never had a personal visit from their children. (Sentencing Project, 2009).
  • Since 1997, the frequency of contact between children and their parents in federal prison has dropped substantially; monthly contact has decreased by 28 percent. (Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, 2009).
  • Close to 10 million youth have had a mother or father—or both—spend time in incarceration. (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007).
  • Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the United States increased by 57 percent, compared to an increase of 34 percent for men (Bureau of Justice Statistics).
  • Fifty-two percent of all incarcerated men and women are parents (Sentencing Project, 2009), and 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).
  • About half of children with incarcerated parents are under 10-years-old; 22 percent of children of state inmates and 16 percent of children of federal inmates are under 5-years-old (Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, 2009).
  • More than 60 percent of parents in state prison and more than 80 percent of parents in federal prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence. (Sentencing Project, 2009).
  • Parental incarceration creates financial instability and material hardship as well as instability in family relationships and structure (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007).
  • Besides lowering recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is evidence that maintaining the child-parent relationship while a parent is incarcerated improves a child’s emotional response to the incarceration and encourages parent-child attachment (Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2005)

We’re changing lives

Children of inmates face a number of challenges every day that peers do not.

  • A future that is much more likely to find them incarcerated.
  • Feelings of social stigma, embarrassment, and isolation from their peers.
  • Visitations with incarcerated parents in anxiety-filled prison meeting rooms.
  • Increased potential for depression, lower grades, separation anxiety, impaired emotional development, acute traumatic stress reactions, survivor guilt, and delinquent juvenile behaviors such as drug use, violence, and teen pregnancy.

While we can find out the numbers of children affected by parental incarceration within state and federal prison settings with relative accuracy, we have no knowledge of how many incarcerated parents are in local and county jails.

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