Incarceration & Reentry

Today, more than two million children in the U.S. have a parent in prison and many more minors have experienced a father or mother in jail. Research results show that when a parent is incarcerated, the lives of their children are disrupted by separation from parents, severance from siblings, and displacement to different caregivers.

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Impacts on Children

Children with a parent behind bars are more likely to experience:

  • Poverty;
  • Parental substance abuse;
  • Poor academic performance;
  • Mental health issues;
  • Substance abuse issues, and
  • Problem behaviors, including crime.

Read about ACF programs focused on Improving the Future for Children of Incarcerated Parents in this ACF Family Room blog post from 2013. Including information on the ACF Children of Incarcerated Parents Working Group. 

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Incarceration Numbers

America's incarceration binge partly attributed to unprecedented crime rates during the 1980s is the driving force behind the growing national problem of children with a parent in prison or jail.
In 2002:

  • Over two million prisoners.
  • More than 4.7 million adult men and women on probation or parole.
  • 6.7 million men and women in the Federal, State, and local adult correctional population, including those incarcerated and those being supervised in the community.

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Prisoner Reentry

Each year, more than 600,000 individuals return home from prison, which has profound consequences for the children of prisoners. Research reveals a number of interesting findings.

  • Record numbers of prisoners return home after longer terms behind bars with inadequate assistance to aid in their reintegration, both into the community and their families.
  • Most prisoners have difficulties reconnecting with families, housing, and jobs.
  • Many prisoners remain plagued by substance abuse and health problems upon reentry into the community.
  • The cycle of imprisonment among large numbers of individuals, mostly minority men, is increasingly concentrated in poor, urban communities already encountering enormous social and economic disadvantages.

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NRFC Resources

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Additional Resources

Promoting Responsible Fatherhood, Priority Area 5: National Evaluation of the Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Re-entering Fathers and their Partners (MSF-IP)

As a part of the National Evaluation of the Responsible Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Re-entering Fathers and their Partners (MSF-IP), several project activities have strong outreach components. The evaluation itself sits at the nexus of criminal justice and human services policy, and as such interested parties include the National Institute of Justice, the American Corrections Association, the National Association of Welfare Research Statistics, and others. The project is funded by the Office of Family Assistance with additional funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). ASPE manages the project for OFA under an Interagency Agreement. The project is not congressionally mandated.
The publications to date are:

These publications are available on two websites: the HHS website at and the MSF-IP Project website at Children of Incarcerated Parents
Resources include: Feature Articles; Publications; Technical Assistance; Tools & Guides; Websites; and Youth Topics. is the U.S. government website that helps individuals to create, maintain, and strengthen effective youth programs. Included are youth facts, funding information, and tools to help you assess community assets, generate maps of local and federal resources, search for evidence-based youth programs, and keep up-to-date on the latest, youth-related news.

National Reentry Resource Center
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs provides information on research, technical assistance, federal resources, and other topics relating to incarceration and reentry. Publications regarding reentry, post-release services, program evaluations, and other areas are also available.

Information Packet: Children of Incarcerated Parents 
Source: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.
More than 10 million children have had a parent in prison. These children often live with their remaining parent or another family member, or in foster care.

Sesame Street: Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration
The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through.

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Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Parents
Source: Urban Institute.
Over 1.5 million children in this country currently have one or both of their parents incarcerated. In addition to the trauma of this loss, these children face tremendous uncertainty in their living arrangements, relationships with loved ones, and family financial stability. Short-term coping responses and heavy stigma are common, both of which may lead to long-term emotional and behavioral challenges. This report reviews the current research on children with incarcerated parents and offers recommendations on how to reduce the negative impact of parental incarceration, with particular attention to the role of supportive relationships with the incarcerated parent and other adults.

Children and Families of Incarcerated Parents: Understanding the Challenges and Addressing the Needs
Source: Washington (State). Department of Social and Health Services.
This report focuses on the issues faced by children when their parents are incarcerated, and strategies that agencies can implement in the state of Washington to support children and families impacted by incarceration. It begins by reviewing legislation passed by the state of Washington that led to the establishment of the Children and Families of Incarcerated Parents (CFIP) Advisory Committee to oversee the implementation of an oversight committee report that recommended several changes to policies and services, develop additional recommendations for the legislature, and bring agencies together with community partners.