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Children of Inmates

Turning the tide of delinquency!

Breakaway is committed to serving the holistic needs of children of inmates, younger siblings of incarcerated teens, and their families. Children of inmates are 6-times more likely to end up in prison without intervention.

The United States has the largest prison population in the Western world.

In 2006, over 2.2 million men and women were in American federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Since 1970, the rate of imprisonment in the US has risen over 400 per cent, and the average length of prison sentences has grown substantially.

The Children

In 2000, state and federal prisoners were the parents of at least 1.5 million children under age 18, or about two per cent of all children in the US. Ex-prisoners increase the numbers to up to 10 million children directly affected by the incarceration of a parent. Many more children have an incarcerated sibling or close relative.

children of prisoners

By the best estimates, as of August 2013, about 2.7 million children under the age of 18 have a parent in prison or jail. According to sociologists Bruce Western and Becky Petit, that means one in 28 kids in the United States (as of 2010) has a mother or father, or both, in lockup—a dramatic change from the one in 125 rate a quarter of a century ago. Over 14,000 children of the imprisoned annually enter foster care, while an undetermined number enter juvenile detention and adult prisons.

Children of inmates are young: about one in five is under age five, and most are under age 10. The average sentence length for inmates in state and federal prisons is 12 and 10 years, respectively. Therefore, most prisoners’ children were separated from their parents at an early age and will remain separated for a considerable length of time.

Most inmates with children are in prisons located at least 100 miles from their former homes, making personal visits costly and difficult. And most inmates with children are from central cities. The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that has been working to improve conditions in American prisons for decades, estimates that between 50 and 75 per cent of the population in poor neighborhoods of American cities are related to someone who is or has been imprisoned.

Studies by sociologist Ariela Lowenstein and others have shown that separation due to imprisonment produces stronger adverse effects on children than other reasons for parent-child separation. Juvenile delinquency, aggression, fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, guilt, low self-esteem, depression, poor academic performance, and emotional withdrawal are the most commonly cited deleterious outcomes among children of prisoners. Moreover, children in communities where incarceration is common often think it is a normal life occurrence.

Not surprisingly, then, children of inmates are about six times more likely than other children to be incarcerated at same point in their lives. One of every ten of these children will be confined in a correctional facility during his or her youth. Of all juveniles currently in correctional institutions, half have at least one parent who is or has been in prison.

What is clear is that the number of children of once-incarcerated parents is growing. As many as 10 million American children, or 14 per cent of all children in the US under age 18, have had an incarcerated parent at least once during their childhood. Most of this growing population lives in poor urban neighborhoods, where their particular needs compound the stress on families and cities already struggling with poverty, discrimination, social instability, and violence.

You can make a difference! Contact Breakaway Outreach today to find out how you can get involved in turning the tide of delinquency and poverty in the lives of prisoners’ children.

*Unless otherwise noted, all data in this article on prisons and prisoners are from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.