The United States is by now notorious for an incarceration rate that is staggeringly high. With less than 5 percent of the global population, the United States is home to nearly one-fourth of the world’s incarcerated population. But less attention has been paid to the impact mass incarceration has had on a generation of children who are growing up cut off from their parents.
Here in the United States, 7 percent of the country’s children have experienced parental incarceration, whether in prisons or jails. An estimated 2.7 million U.S. children currently have a parent behind bars. That means 1 in every 28 children — at least one in every public school classroom — has an incarcerated parent, up from 1 in 125 children just over 30 years ago. Among black children, the rates are even higher: 1 in 9 have a parent in prison. In California alone, as of 2000, an estimated 292,000 children had a parent in prison or jail.
More and more of these incarcerated parents are mothers. In the last 30 years, the number of women in prison has increased by over 500 percent. As of 2010, there were an estimated 120,000 incarcerated mothers of children under the age of 18.
- “Being away from you for three years is killing me. It seems like an eternity.”