U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Incarcerated Parents and Their Children

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

EMBARGOED UNTIL 4:30 P.M. EDT                                   BJS
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30,  2000                       202/307-0784    
             
         
ALMOST 1.5 MILLION MINOR CHILDREN
HAVE A MOTHER OR FATHER IN PRISON

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   Of the nation's 72 million minor
children (17 years old and younger), an estimated 2 percent had an
imprisoned parent in 1999, the Justice Department's Bureau of
Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.  Last year, an estimated
721,500 federal and state prisoners had minor children.  
     Almost 1.5 million minor children had a parent in prison--an
increase of more than 500,000 children since 1991.  A majority of
the children with imprisoned parents (58 percent) was younger than
10 years old--the average was eight years old.  
     According to the BJS report, imprisoned parents were
overwhelmingly male (93 percent), as is the general prison
population, and predominately held in state prisons, rather than
federal facilities (89 percent compared to 11 percent). 
The number of minor children with an imprisoned father
(1,372,700) rose 58 percent from 1991 through 1999, compared to
a 98 percent increase during the same period in the number of
minors with an imprisoned mother (126,100).
     Half of the parents in state prisons were black, about a quarter
were white and a fifth were  Hispanic.  In 1999 an estimated
767,200 black children, 384,500 white children and 301,600
Hispanic children had a parent in prison.  The percentage of black
children in the U.S. resident population with an imprisoned parent
(7.0 percent) was nearly nine times higher than that of white
children (0.8 percent).  Hispanic children were three times as likely
as white children to have a parent in prison (2.6 percent).  
     State prisoners who were parents were less likely to be violent
offenders (44 percent) than inmates without children (51 percent),
the report said .  Three-quarters of state prisoners who were parents
had a prior conviction, and a majority (56 percent) had previously
been incarcerated.  On average, the imprisoned parents expected to
serve more than six-and-a-half years in state prison and
eight-and-a-half years in federal prison.
     More than 80 percent of all parents in prison reported that their
minor children lived with the other parent, but these answers
differed sharply by gender.  About 90 percent of fathers in state
prisons said at least one of their minor children were now living
with their mother, while 28 percent of mothers in prison said their
child's father was the current care giver.  Mothers most often
said their children's grandparents were the care givers (53 percent),
compared to 13 percent of the fathers who said their children were
with grandparents.
     Forty-six percent of all parents in state and federal prisons said
they were living with their children just prior to their admission to
prison.  Among parents in state prisons, 44 percent of the fathers
lived with their children prior to their admission, compared to 64
percent of the mothers.  As of December 31, 1999, an estimated
336,300 U.S. households with minor children had a resident
parent in prison. 
     Forty percent of the imprisoned fathers and 60 percent of the
mothers reported weekly contact with their children by phone, mail
or visit.  However, a majority of both fathers (57 percent) and
mothers (54 percent) reported never having had a personal visit
with their children since their admission to state prison.  More than
60 percent of the parents in state prisons reported being held
more than 100 miles from their last place of residence.
     The study also found that almost 60 percent of the parents in
state prisons reported having used drugs in the month before their
offense, and 25 percent reported a history of alcohol dependence. 
More than a third of the parents in state prisons committed their
offense while under the influence of alcohol.
     About 14 percent reported a mental illness, and 70 percent did
not have a high school diploma.  At the time of their most recent
arrest, 27 percent of the fathers and 50 percent of the mothers in
state prisons were unemployed.  In the month prior to their arrest,
46 percent of the parents said they had incomes of at least $1,000 a
month, and 27 percent said their income derived from illegal
activities.  Mothers in state prisons were twice as likely as fathers
to say they had been homeless in the year before their arrests, 18
percent compared to 8 percent.
     About half of the parents in state prison were never married and
a quarter were currently married.  In the month before their arrest,
20 percent had been living with their children in two-parent
households, 18 percent were living with their children as single
parents and 62 percent lived apart from their children.
     The data are based on personal interviews in state and federal
correctional facilities during which the inmates described various
aspects of their lives both before and during incarceration.
     The special report, "Incarcerated Parents and Their Children"
(NCJ-182335), was written by BJS policy analyst Christopher J.
Mumola. Single copies  may be obtained from the BJS
fax-on-demand system by dialing 301/519-5550, listening to the
complete menu and selecting document number 215.  Or call the
BJS clearinghouse at 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders for mail
delivery to 410/492-4358.  

The full report may be obtained from the BJS Internet site at:   
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs

Additional criminal justice materials can be obtained from the
Office of Justice Programs Website at:     
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov

                                               # # #

BJS00180 
After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354 
EMBARGOED UNTIL 4:30 P.M. EDT                                   
Date Created: May 26, 2009