A Shared Sentence – The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities

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Author(s): The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Published: April 18, 2016

Report Intro/Brief:
"The saying is all too familiar: Do the crime, do the time. But in America’s age of mass incarceration, millions of children are suffering the consequences of their parents’ sentences and our nation’s tough-on-crime practices. These children feel the absence of that adult — whether it is several nights in jail or years in prison — in myriad ways, even if they weren’t sharing a home.1 They feel it when their refrigerator is bare because their family has lost a source of income or child support. They feel it when they have to move, sometimes repeatedly, because their families can no longer afford the rent or mortgage. And they feel it when they hear the whispers in school, at church or in their neighborhood about where their mother or father has gone.

Incarceration breaks up families, the building blocks of our communities and nation. It creates an unstable environment for kids that can have lasting effects on their development and well-being. These challenges can reverberate and multiply in their often low-income neighborhoods, especially if they live in a community where a significant number of residents, particularly men, are in or returning from jail or prison. And different obstacles emerge once parents are released and try to assume their roles as caregivers, employees and neighbors.

This report recommends policies and practices that put the needs of children of incarcerated parents first. We call on correctional systems, communities and state and local public agencies to help stabilize families and preserve their connections during incarceration — and successfully move forward once parents come home."