According to a new policy report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.” Furthermore, the report reveals that neighborhoods struggling with high rates of incarcerated parents often lack the supports needed by the kids, families – and even entire communities – left behind.

Some of the greatest impacts on having parents incarcerated, cited by the report, include:

  • A significant drop in income and reduced earning potential for parents left behind
  • The traumatic loss of a parental bond with children, which can lead to increased mental health issues for the child

But the effects are not just on those incarcerated and their families. Entire communities with high rates of incarcerated parents experience devastating economic and social effects. For example, the report reveals that “just living in a neighborhood with a high incarceration rate increases residents’ chances of suffering from depression and anxiety.”

Important Statistical highlights from the report include:

  • 7% of US children have experienced parental incarceration
  • Nationally, around 5.1 million US children have had a parent in jail at some point in their lives
  • From 1980 to 2000, the number of kids with a father in prison or jail rose by 500 percent
  • African-American and Latino kids are over seven and two times more likely, respectively, to have a parent incarcerated
  • Even if parents were not living with their children before incarceration, more than half provided the primary financial support
  • Children with incarcerated mothers are more likely than those with incarcerated fathers to end up living with grandparents or family friends or in foster care — and, as a result, tend to experience greater disruption and instability
  • Kids with incarcerated parents are significantly less likely to live in neighborhoods that are able to be supportive of families
  • 65% of families with a member in prison cannot meet basic needs
  • Kids with fathers in prison, especially African American children, are at a greater risk of ending up homeless
  • Kids with incarcerated mothers are at a greater risk of dropping out of school

Be sure to check out the full policy report, which also includes more eye-opening statistics, recommendations, and promising practices from around the country that are supporting children and families facing incarceration.

Read Full Report 


The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2016). A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families, and Communities. Baltimore, MD: Retrieved from