Over the last 25 years, the number of incarcerated persons has quadrupled.1The number of children with a father in prison increased 77% from 1991-2007 and the number with a mother in prison increased 131% in the same time.2 Incarceration is a generational problem within families. It has long-range economic, emotional and social, consequences that affect prisoners and families, and that can affect children’s well being.3 Data about families affected by incarceration is fraught with major data gaps. For example, Minnesota doesn’t collect information on whether an inmate is a parent. National estimates are our best source of data.
Who are the children?
- At least 1.7 million minor children in the U.S. Have a parent in prison, about a quarter of whom are under age 5.
- More than 15,000 children in Minnesota have a parent who is incarcerated and they are one of the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children
- More than a third of minor children with an incarcerated parent will reach age 18 while their parent is still incarcerated.
Who are the parents?
- 92% of incarcerated parents are fathers.
- About half of parents in prison reported provided the primary financial support for their minor children before incarceration
- Parents who have been incarcerated are more likely to be poorly educated, lack material resources, and have problems with drugs, alcohol and mental illness.7
What defines a family affected by incarceration?
- It includes the prisoner, their children, and their children’s caregivers.
- This definition of “family” may not fully capture the complexity of many prisoners’ family relationships.
- Parents in prison are more likely to have children from more than one relationship or have children under the care of a grandparent or other family member.
- Families of prisoners suffer tremendous social stigma and lack of community support
- Most families do not survive incarceration
How does incarceration of a parent affect young children?
- A parent’s arrest and imprisonment often has a profound, negative impact on their minor children.
- Generally impoverished to begin with, most children of prisoners become even poorer upon their parents’ arrest.
- Children exhibit high rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and attention disorders
- Increased risk of homelessness, household disruption, school failure, and delinquency.
- Incarceration can produce numerous economic and legal challenges for the children and family members left behind.
- Families may experience a sudden loss of income.
- It is not uncommon for children to be left without proper guardians or caregivers following a parent’s arrest.
- There are stories of children who have been left to their own devices for days, and even weeks, following the arrest of their mother or father.
- They may experience severe trauma after witnessing the arrest of their parent, requiring counseling and support services to help them overcome the experience.
Why should we help children maintain relationships with incarcerated parents?
- The importance of family involvement can help positively steer the offenders’ decisions about how they spend their time in prison.
- Children maintaining parental ties help them learn how to deal with the separation in a healthy way
- Research shows that a strong father-child relationship prevents recidivism and protects the child from choosing criminal activity
The State of Minnesota
- · Minnesota has seen its prison population increase by more than 50 percent since 2000- the second largest growth rate among the states with a current prison population is 9,650 adults.
- Minnesota, the land of 15,000 children with at least one parent behind bars
- In the last 20 years State expenditures on corrections rose 315%
- Minnesota’s correction budget is $465 million annually Plus $92M in construction costs
- MN will need to construct one new prison every other year until the year 2030, MN spends $30K-$80K per prisoner each year
- The Need
Do the crime… Do the time…
What about the rest of the story?
Incarceration impacts the whole family—especially the children. Children are paying the real price for a parent’s incarceration.
Having an incarcerated parent creates a crisis for the entire family—economically, socially and emotionally. The family is in pain, vulnerable, and under significant stress. Those most impacted are the children of inmates who experience loneliness, anxiety and anger caused by the trauma of the incarceration of a parent.
Incarceration of a parent leads to increases in: child neglect, school failure and drop-outs, juvenile delinquency, developmental problems, withdrawal, physical aggression, fighting, prostitution, substance abuse, gang activity, drug use and drug selling, street violence.