Children of Incarcerated Parents

The Case for RISE  – Powerpoint / PDF

Other articles of interest:

The 2015 RI Kids Count Fact Book has been released:
Click here to view updated information on children with incarcerated parents in Rhode Island.

Following Information from RI Kids Count 2013 Fact Book


Children of incarcerated parents is the number of children with parents serving sentences at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections per 1,000 children under age 18. The data are reported by the place of the parent’s last residence before entering prison.


Approximately 1.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent incarcerated in state or federal prison, and a quarter of minor children with a parent in prison are under age five. Having an incarcerated parent can negatively impact the quality of a child’s attachment to their parent, which can lead to developmental regression, withdrawal, aggression, and other reactive behaviors.

Parental incarceration can affect a child’s emotional and behavioral development. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety, have an eating or sleeping disorder, and be expelled or suspended from school.They also are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior and to be arrested and incarcerated as juveniles.

Nationally, most children of incarcerated parents live with their other parent (84%), a grandparent (15%), and/or other relatives (6%).

Relative caregivers often experience significant economic hardship.They may be unaware that they are eligible for services, may be worried about stigma, or may have concerns about accessing services through the child welfare system (e.g., a formal kinship care arrangement).  Children of incarcerated parents are more likely than other children to be involved with the child welfare system. In the U.S. in 2009, more than 14,000 children entered foster care at least in part due to the incarceration of a parent.

These children often represent complex cases for child welfare agencies that involve balancing parental rights with the safety and well-being of the child.

Programs and policies targeted at the unique needs of incarcerated pregnant women and mothers can improve outcomes for them and their families.

Keeping siblings together, providing family counseling and access to mental health care, mentoring, peer supports, and prison transition supports can alleviate the worst effects of parents’ imprisonment on their children and improve the family reunification process.

Of the 1,700 Rhode Island parents incarcerated on September 30, 2012 (including those awaiting trial), 48% were White, 28% were Black, 22% were Hispanic, and 2% were of an other or unknown race. Fifty-nine percent of incarcerated parents with a known in state residence identified one of the four core cities as their last place of residence.
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Of the 3,249 Rhode Island inmates awaiting trial or serving a sentence who were surveyed as of September 30, 2012 and answered the question on number of children, 1,700 inmates reported having 3,706 children. Twenty-seven percent of sentenced mothers had one to five year sentences and 30% of sentenced fathers were serving a sentence of more than ten years.

◆ Of the 105 sentenced mothers on September 30, 2012, 52% were serving a sentence for a nonviolent offense, 26% for a violent offense, 13% for a drug-related offense, and 3% for breaking and entering. Of the 1,237 sentenced fathers, 18% were serving sentences for a nonviolent offense, 44% for a violent offense, 12% for a drug-related offense, 9% for breaking and entering, and 14% for a sex-related offense.

◆ Half (50%) of incarcerated parents awaiting trial or serving a sentence on September 30, 2012 had less than a high school degree education, 39% had a high school diploma or a GED, and 11% had at least some college education.

◆ A supportive family, education, job training, stable housing, employment assistance, medical assistance, and substance abuse treatment are critical to the parents’ successful transition to the community after incarceration and also support the well-being of their children.

◆ High-quality prison-based parenting programs can benefit incarcerated parents and their children. Parents participating in these programs have demonstrated improved relationships with their children and increased knowledge of child development and behavior management techniques. Children have shown signs of improved relationships with their incarcerated mother, diminished feelings of sadness and anger, fewer behavioral problems at school, and better grades.

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