Mass incarceration punishes kids too

new report shows the devastation families face because of mass incarceration 

The arrest of a parent can be traumatic and severe for children whose parents are incarcerated, causing emotional, physical, educational and financial well-being difficulties. According to a  new study, kids of incarcerated parents are likely to become incarcerated themselves.


The study reports that half of people in state prisons are parents to minors, leaving 1.25 million kids to cope with the fallout.  According to research done in state prisons, children of incarcerated parents face formidable cognitive and health-related problems throughout their development.


“If you have a parent that was incarcerated while you were growing up, you’re more likely to end up incarcerated yourself,” said Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative. “There’s clearly a generational aspect to this.”


This causes challenges for parents, especially women when it comes to parenting behind bars. A survey of prison inmates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that women are more likely than men to be a parent of a minor and more likely to have lived with the child prior to imprisonment.


“If you grow up and you have an incarcerated parent, you don’t have that source of support, you have one less person to help you get your first job, or find your first place to live, and even help you get connected with the healthcare system,” Bertram said.


“All things that we know help keep people on a stable path to adulthood and thus keep them out of the criminal justice system.”


While these children go through difficult times, it can be hard to find where they will go depending on if they have other family or not. The report found that 71% of children either stay with the other parent or step-parent, 13% stay with the grandmother and/or grandfather (4%) or another relative (5%). So far a small percentage of  parents reported that their child has been incarcerated. “About 3,400 parents in prison report their minor children are in the foster care system,” according to the report.


“Foster care is not a very good system, there’s lots of problems with it,” Bertram said. “It tends to frequently tear people away from their families.” Bertram added that trauma can lead to behaviors that are often criminalized such as skipping school.


Even if incarcerated parents try to stay in touch while behind bars, barriers like visitation policies and distance make it logistically and economically difficult.


“As a result of this, people have to rely on other means of communication such as phone calls, video calls and mailing options,”  Bertram said.


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