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June 2015Vol. 16, No. 5Factsheet on Children With Incarcerated Parents

The Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a factsheet that summarizes the plight of children with incarcerated parents and provides suggestions for ways that public policy may help this vulnerable population. The factsheet highlights the unintended negative consequences of a parent's incarceration on his or her children—consequences that affect children both during their parent's incarceration as well as throughout the children's lifetimes.

Long-term effects on children with incarcerated parents are deep and lasting. This loss of parental presence, coupled with the loss of financial support that the parent may have provided, takes an emotional toll. Children may need to move in with other relatives or friends, adding exponentially to their stress. Their parents are more likely to employ harsh parenting practices, suffer from mental illness, or struggle with substance abuse issues. In addition, the incarceration itself can cause children to experience feelings of guilt, anger, or confusion. Visiting the parent in a correctional facility can further exacerbate these feelings.

The factsheet proposes several ways that policy might help these children:

  • Creating positive prison visitation experiences for children
  • Deferring the parent's child support payments
  • Training the children's teachers about the effects of these emotional stressors
  • Shortening mandatory sentences and reform "truth-in-sentencing" laws for low-risk, nonviolent offenders
  • Talking with children about their parent's incarceration and encouraging them to talk about their feelings

Access the factsheet Beyond Bars: Children With an Incarcerated Parent at (551 KB).