Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Human Costs of Parental Incarceration
by Judith Greene & Patricia Allard

The pain of losing a parent to a prison sentence matches, in many respects, the trauma of losing aparent to death or divorce. Children “on the outside” with a parent in prison suffer a special stigma. Too often they grow up and grieve under a cloud of low expectations and amidst a swirling set of assumptions that they will fail.

Fifty-three percent of the 1.5 million people held in U.S. prisons by 2007 were the parents of one or more minor children. This percentage translates into more than 1.7 million minor children with an incarcerated parent.

African American children are seven and Latino children two and half times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children. The estimated risk of parental imprisonment for white children by the age of 14 is one in 25, while for black children it is one in four by the same age.

Previous research has shown a close yet complex connection between parental incarceration and adverse outcomes for children, including:

• an increased likelihood of engaging in antisocial or delinquent behavior, including drug use;

• an increased likelihood of school failure;

• an increased likelihood of unemployment, and;

• an increased likelihood of developing mental health problems.

Policymakers and the public must take such findings seriously. They also need to understand the real costs of mass incarceration on children and the communities in which they grow up. Too often, society dismisses the children of incarcerated parents as future liabilities to public safety while overlooking opportunities to address the pain and trauma with which these children struggle. It is by tackling the psychological and emotional trauma head-on that we not only aid these children to grow into our future mothers, fathers, taxpayers and workers, but also ensure more stable and thriving communities.

Complete research report pdf: