The Effects of Imprisonment on Families

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Imprisonment and Families Fact Sheet

  • Nationally, more than 8.3 million children have parents under correctional supervision (either in prison, jail, on probation or parole).
  • More than 1.7 million children have a parent in state or federal prison.
  • Nearly 62% of women in state prisons and 51% of men in state prisons are parents of children under 18.
  • Since 1991, the number children with a mother in prison increased by 131% and the number of children with a father in prison increase by 77%.
  • Women in state prisons are more likely than men in state prisons to have more than one child.
  • Almost 73% of New York’s incarcerated women are parents, compared to more than 58% of men.
  • Almost 80,000 children have a parent in New York’s prisons, including nearly 5,240 children with an incarcerated mother.
  • More than 10,000 children have a mother in a jail or prison in New York State.
  • More than 64% of mothers in state prison lived with their children before prison, compared to over 46% of men.
  • Over 77% of mothers in state prison were the primary caretakers of their children before arrest ,compared with more than 26% of men.
  • One in five children of incarcerated mothers witnessed their mother’s arrest.
  • An estimated 25% of incarcerated women are pregnant at the time of their arrest or have given birth at some point during the year prior to prison. 4% of women in state prisons, 3% of women in federal prisons, and about 5% of women in jail nationwide report being pregnant at the time of incarceration.
  • As of January 2009, there were 12 mothers in the nursery at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and nine mothers in the nursery at Taconic Correctional Facility.
  • 58% of mothers and 49% of fathers in state prison report having an immediate family member who has also been incarcerated.
  • African American children are 7.5 times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children. Latino children are 2.5 times more likely than white children to have an incarcerated parent.
  • Almost 58% of mothers and almost 59% of fathers in state prisons report never having had a visit with their children since they entered prison.
  • Nearly 42% of incarcerated mothers and just under 30% of incarcerated fathers report that they maintain some form of weekly contact with their children.
  • More than 88% of men in state prison report that their children are living with their mothers. In comparison, 37% of incarcerated mothers report that their children are living with their fathers.
  • Nearly 11% of mothers in state prison report that their children are in foster homes or agencies, compared with just over 2% of fathers.
  • Almost 68% of mothers in state prison report that their children live with a grandparent or other relative. The corresponding figure for incarcerated fathers is more than 17%.
  • 87% of incarcerated women who spent their childhood in foster care or institutions report having prior histories of abuse.
  • The incarceration of a primary caretaker is traumatic and disruptive for children. Children of incarcerated mothers will often move at least once and live with at least two different caretakers while their mother is in prison.
  • Like all young people, children of incarcerated parents need support and nurturing. Services for children of incarcerated parents, however, should be specially tailored to their specific experiences and circumstances.
  • Nearly 41% are incarcerated at Albion Correctional Facility, more than 370 miles away from New York City, where a majority of incarcerated people are from and where their children still reside.
  • Some visiting rooms in New York’s prisons have little opportunity for parents and children to meaningfully interact with each other.
  • 62% of parents in state prisons and 84% of parents in federal prisons are held over 100 miles from their last residence. In federal prisons, about 43% of parents are held over 500 miles from their last residence.
  • Maintaining family ties can lessen the destructive aspects of parental incarceration by helping children process their mother’s absence, easing family reunification after release, bolstering children’s well-being and healthy development, and decreasing the likelihood that a mother will return to prison.
  • New York’s Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) almost always requires a foster care agency to file a petition to terminate parental rights if a child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. The median sentence for women in New York’s prisons is 36 months.
  • Termination of parental rights means that parents lose all legal ties to their children forever. After termination, parents have no right to find out about their children’s well-being, where they live, or even if they have been adopted.
  • Because more children of incarcerated mothers are in foster homes or agencies than children of incarcerated fathers, ASFA likely has a disproportionate impact on mothers in prison.
  • As a result of the way that ASFA is implemented when a parent is in prison, incarcerated mothers are at serious and disproportionate risk of losing their parental rights – even in cases where the true best interest of the child is to keep reunification as the goal for the family.

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