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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January 25, 2017
This webinar offered tips on how fatherhood programs can work to improve outcomes for incarcerated fathers and their families and present examples of programs that are helping fathers as they return to their families and communities.
Presenters were: Ann Adalist-Estrin, Director, The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ; Mary Weaver, Dad’s Back!, Friends Outside Los Angeles (FOLA), CA; and, Tina Naidoo, Executive Director, Texas Offender Reentry Initiative, Dallas, TX. 
The facilitator was Eugene Schneeberg, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.
Material, including a Helpful Resources list, can be found in the Webinars section.

NRFC Resources

This section of the Toolkit features sections on: the context of prison-based work with fathers; providing services in a correctional environment; developing services in correctional environments; addressing criminal history on a job application; reentry mythbusters; and supporting families and children of incarcerated fathers. The section also includes a spotlight on programs working with incarcerated and reentry fathers, top takeaways, helpful resources, and a reference list. 
Additional NRFC Resources include:

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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.

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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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Additional Resources

The Evaluation of the Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers and their Partners (MFS-IP) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF) initiative to support healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood.  Thirteen grantees in 12 different states have received five-year grants from the Office of Family Assistance of ACF to implement multiple activities to support and sustain marriages and families of fathers during and after incarceration.  Grantees may also provide support for reentering the family and community from prison, parenting support including visitation during incarceration, education and employment services during and after incarceration. 
Publications include: Predictors of Reentry Success; Change in Father-Child Relationships Before, During and After Incarceration; and The Experiences of Families During A Father’s Incarceration:  Descriptive Findings from Baseline Data Collection for the Multi-site Family Study on Incarceration, Parenting and Partnering-- Report Summary. A complete list of available publications can be found on the ASPE website. 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.

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.

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