The Impact Of Over-incarceration On Families

A report using data from the National Survey of Children's Health helps put into perspective the full impact of our criminal justice system's fondness for incarceration. The research, conducted by Child Trends, shows that one out of every 14 children has had a parent locked up. In total, more than five million children in this country have had that experience. The report is entitled Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children and contains a number of eye-openers about one of the hidden costs of mass incarceration.

Children with parents in prison suffer a number of problems that can hinder their development. They are not as engaged in school as other students. Unsurprisingly, they receive less attention from parents overall as children who do not have a parent in prison. They are also more likely to be victim to stressful, traumatic events than other children.

The system does little to nothing to make visitation a convenient or pleasant experience. Less than half of the children with incarcerated parents actually visit them. Many prisons are located in rural areas as a way to keep costs down. That makes traveling to prisons for visitation a burden many families cannot afford. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, nearly two-thirds of state prison inmates are housed more than 100 miles from family members.

Keeping prisoners away from their families and children away from their parents seems like a poor way to improve our society. Mass incarceration has taken a heavy toll on millions of children nationwide. Criminal justice reform could help solve this and other problems associated with the failed policies of the past several decades. It cannot come soon enough for the children left behind.

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