There have been numerous studies done, and unending research detailing the rate of incarceration in the United States, which now leads the world in the number of it's citizen's currently in custody. The number of those incarcerated has quadrupled since 1980 from 500,000 to 2.3 million. This staggering figure beats former leader's in incarceration like Russia and South Africa, and appears to be on the rise. But what about the children of those doing time? Are they casualties of a prison system which seeks to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate, or just innocent victims caught in the middle?
Studies show that 1 in 28 children have at least 1 parent who is incarcerated. It has also been discovered that 63% of Federal prisoner's and 55% of state prisoner's are the parent's of children under the age of 18. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57% compared to 34% per for men. A whopping 75% of all incarcerated women are mothers, and at least 46% of all imprisoned parents lived with at least one of their minor children, prior to entry.
The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is 8 years old, and 22% of the children are under the age of 5. There is a disparate impact on families of color, with African-American children nine times more likely and Hispanic children three times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. The reason's for this disparity are many but it no secret that African- American's have always received harsher sentences that any other ethnic group due to a culture of systematic disenfranchisement. But I digress.
Having a parent who is behind bars can cause both physical and emotional instability, behavioral problems, and shame because of the stigma attached.
These children suffer abandonment issues and often have low self esteem.
My initial curiosity on this subject was sparked by a children's book that I saw online entitled, "The Night Daddy Went To Prison" (photo below). At first I thought that it was just a parody, or a sick joke. But upon further investigation I found out that it was very real. There has actually been a story book or manual designed to help children cope with innocence lost as a result of a parent being caged. There was a time when children's books taught them how to go potty and brush their teeth. Now it's a whole different ball game. One in which the children are being forced to deal with an adult situation. To some, this may seem like a question of responsibility or lack their of, and you may ask yourself why a truly concerned parent would put themselves in a position where being institutionalized is possible or even necessary. But prison's are filled with innocent people, who have been ripped away from their families in the name of justice. How do we reconcile the irrefutable damage done to their offspring? Even the children of the guilty are not guilty themselves, they just become casualties of the prison industrial complex learning to cope by reading a story book.