The Number of Parents in Prison Grows

The Number of Parents in Prison Grows

"The Number of Parents in Prison Grows" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 25(1-2): 17 (Spring 2008-Summer 2008). According to a report released recently by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over half of the nation's prisoners are parents of minor children. Of the total 1,518,535 inmates in custody at midyear 2007, 809,800 had children under eighteen - an estimated 1,796,600 children. This represents 2.3 percent of the total U.S. population under eighteen.

According to a report released recently by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over half of the nation’s prisoners are parents of minor children. Of the total 1,518,535 inmates in custody at midyear 2007, 809,800 had children under eighteen—an estimated 1,796,600 children (Figure 1). This represents 2.3 percent of the total U.S. population under eighteen.

The report, “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children,” presents data collected through interviews with prisoners participating in a Bureau of Justice Statistics study. The study included surveys with inmates in both state and federal facilities.

Between 1991 and 2007 the number of parents with minor children in prison increased by 79 percent, and the number of children by 80 percent. (The overall prison population grew by 92 percent over this same period.)

Fathers in prison at midyear 2007 reported 1,559,200 children; mothers reported 147,400. The number of minor children with a mother in prison has grown 131 percent since 1991, reflecting the steep increase in the number of mothers incarcerated (122%). (While men vastly outnumber women in the nation’s prisons, the overall female inmate population has also grown more steeply than the male population since 1991.)

Over 80 percent of minor children with incarcerated parents were fourteen years old or younger (Table 1). Incarcerated fathers most commonly reported their children’s mother as the current caregiver for the children (88.4%). In contrast, only 37 percent of mothers in prison named the children’s father as the caregiver; instead, they reported another relative, often a grandparent, as the primary caregiver (Table 2).

Of the incarcerated parents, a significant number—over half (58%) of those in state facilities and somewhat less than half (44%) of parents incarcerated in federal prisons had never had a personal visit with their children (Table 3). Most parents, however, did report some type of contact with their children—mail, phone, or visit.

Information contained in the foregoing article was taken from BJS Special Report NCJ 222984. Due to differences in methodology, estimates in this BJS report may not be comparable to those reported for previous BJS studies.

Figure 1. Estimated Number of Parents in State and Federal Prisons and Their Minor Children
Table 1. Percent of Minor Children of Parents in State and Federal Prisons at Time of Interview, by Gender, 2004
Table 2. Current Caregiver of Minor Children of Parents in State Prison, by Gender, 2004
Table 3. Frequency of Telephone, Mail, and Personal Contacts with Adult or Minor Childrenamong State and Federal Inmates Who Were Parents of Minor Children, by Gender, 2004
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