The Burden of Incarceration: 1 in 28 Kids Have a Parent Behind Bars

Heartbreaking facts:

2.7 million children have a parent behind bars-1 in every 28 children (3.6 percent) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

That’s from a new Pew Report written by superstar sociologists?Bruce Western and?Becky Pettit.? These are the go-to folks for anyone trying to understand the current?mass incarceration.? The full report is?here and it’s summarized?here.

Why isn’t this the family values issue that we are all talking about?? I won’t pretend to know what we should do, but public indifference to the plight of these innocents can’t be right.


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  1. Bostonian says:

    People are in jail for a reason. If they were let out, many of them, especially the men, would not be caring for their children.

    What fraction of the parents you are writing about were
    (1) married to the other parent
    (2) gainfully employed

    before being incarcerated? Most were not, I bet.

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  2. Diana says:

    “Why isn’t this the family values issue that we are all talking about?”

    Because “family values” are not about helping actual families. They are about controlling other people’s sex lives. Pro-lifers only care about children from conception to birth. After that, they’re on their own.

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  3. hen3ry says:

    Until we go bankrupt paying for incarceration there will be no changes. There is a large segment of the country that views any assistance to convicts as frivolous and wasteful, and refuses to see that releasing people from prison with no skills or restricting their employment opportunities keeps them committing crimes. We no longer believe in paying for one’s crime and then coming back into society and contributing to it. If we have zero tolerance in schools for minor misbehavior on the part of children why should we extend any charity to ex convicts trying to make a living and support a family? The obvious answer escapes most people: because ex cons have a right to be able to support their families and themselves. And educating them or training them in a trade to earn a living, assuming that they can find a job, is better than putting them back in prison.

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  4. Tumbolian says:

    I’d be interested to see the companion statistic: how many parents of minor children are behind bars? I suspect that the rate is much lower than half that of the children (since two parents per child . . .). The question would then be why people who end up behind bars tend to have more children.

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  5. Mark Wolfinger says:

    To me the sad news is that the people who hurt millions (think Goldman Sachs, AIG traders etc), go unpunished when the guy who uses a narcotic ends up in prison.

    There is something very wrong with our penal system.


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  6. Clancy says:

    “Why isn’t this the family values issue that we are all talking about?”

    Because prisoners and felons can’t vote.

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  7. Eileen M. Wyatt says:

    @Tumbolian (#4), the report mentions that more than half of all inmates have minor children, so the rate is 14x that of the children.

    I suspect this is because crime rate tends to track percentage of young men in the population (most of the incarcerated parents are fathers) and if a man is young, any children he’s fathered are likely also to be quite young.

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  8. Tyson F says:

    The ‘War on Drugs’ has certainly worked well over the past 40 years.

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