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Us Urban Institute Families Left Behind 2005

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ith incarceration rates in America at record high levels, the
criminal justice system now touches the lives of millions of
children each year. The imprisonment of nearly three-quarters
of a million parents disrupts parent-child relationships, alters the
networks of familial support, and places new burdens on governmental services such as schools, foster care, adoption agencies, and youthserving organizations. Few studies have explored the impact of parental incarceration on young
children or identified the needs that arise from such circumstances. Little attention has focused
on how communities, social service agencies, health care providers, and the criminal justice
system can work collaboratively to better meet the needs of the families left behind. This policy
brief is intended to help focus attention on these hidden costs of our criminal justice policies.


More than half of the 1.4 million adults incarcerated in state and federal prisons are parents of
minor children.1 The vast majority of incarcerated parents are male (93%) and are held in state
prisons (89%). Among the men held in state prison, 55 percent report having minor children.
Among the women, who account for 6 percent of the state prison population, 65 percent report
having minor children. Over half (58%) of the minor children of incarcerated parents are less
than 10 years old (see figure 1).2
Great distances typically separate children from their incarcerated parents. Women are housed
in prisons an average of 160 miles from their children, while men are an average distance of 100
miles away.3 These distances serve as a barrier to prison visits by family members. More than
half of incarcerated parents report never receiving a personal visit from their children.4 Contact
in the form of phone calls and letters often proves problematic as well. The number of calls or
letters per prisoner is typically limited by corrections policy. The high cost of collect phone calls,
reflecting surcharges imposed by telephone companies or the departments themselves, can make
this form of contact quite expensive. Despite these barriers, nearly 60 percent of mothers and
40 percent of fathers report having weekly contact with their children while incarcerated.


The majority of parents are serving time for either violent offenses (46% of fathers and 26% of
mothers) or drug offenses (23% of fathers and 35% of mothers). Incarcerated parents in state
prison are sentenced to a mean term of 80 months for their current offense.5 More than threequarters of incarcerated parents in state prison report a conviction prior to the one for which
they are serving their sentence. More than half had previously been incarcerated.6 This profile
demonstrates that many parents have repeated exposure to the criminal justice system, which
could disrupt familial relationships. Both children and parents might have to deal with issues

CPR03 0105


• About 2 percent of all minors—more than 1.5 million
children—had a parent in state or federal prison.
• 10 percent of all minor children—7.3 million children—
have a parent in prison, jail, on probation, or on parole.
Source: Estimates based on the 1996 Survey of Inmates in Local
Jails, 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional
Facilities, 2001 Annual Survey of Jails, and the 2001 National
Prisoners Statistics program. (Presented by Christopher Mumola
at the National Center for Children & Families, Washington, D.C.,
on October 31, 2002.)

FIGURE 1. Age Distribution of Minor Children with Parents
in State or Federal Prison, 1997

of abandonment and loss, weakened attachment caused by
separation, and the possibility of inadequate ongoing care
resulting from changes in caregiving arrangements.
Prison presents opportunities to improve prisoners’ abilities
to serve as productive members of their families once they
are released. For example, prison-based programs can enhance
parenting skills, treat addictions, increase literacy, raise educational levels, and generally prepare inmates for life outside
prison. Many of these programs have been shown to reduce
recidivism rates and improve the chances of successful reintegration.7 Some research suggests that these programs also benefit a prisoner’s family networks and community. However, for
a variety of reasons, these programs are not widely available in
American prisons. In fact, in recent years, the share of prisoners participating in these programs has declined.8 Reasons for
reduced availability include fiscal constraints as well as a shift
in corrections departments’ policies, with greater emphasis
now on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

<1 year

15 –17 years
1– 4 years

10 –14 years
5–9 years

Source: Adapted from Christopher J. Mumola, Incarcerated Parents and
Their Children (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau
of Justice Statistics, NCJ 182335, 2000).

Losing a parent to prison affects multiple aspects of children’s
lives and affects them to varying degrees. Such a loss can likely
have a significant impact on the emotional, psychological,
developmental, and financial well-being of the child. Yet
there has been little research exploring these consequences of
parental incarceration. The broader phenomenon of parental
separation and loss, particularly in the context of divorce or
death, has, by contrast, received substantial research attention.
This body of literature provides a framework for understanding possible repercussions of parental imprisonment for the
children left behind.
This literature suggests that parental separation due to
imprisonment can have profound consequences for children
(see table 1). The immediate effects can include feelings of
shame, social stigma, loss of financial support, weakened ties
to the parent, changes in family composition, poor school
performance, increased delinquency, and increased risk
of abuse or neglect. Long-term effects can range from the
questioning of parental authority, negative perceptions of
police and the legal system, and increased dependency or
maturational regression to impaired ability to cope with
future stress or trauma, disruption of development, and
intergenerational patterns of criminal behavior.9


Developmental state

Developmental characteristics

Developmental tasks

Effects of separation

(0–2 years)

Limited perception, mobility
Total dependency

Development of trust and

Impaired parent-child

Early childhood
(2–6 years)

Increased perception and
mobility and improved

Development of sense of
autonomy, independence,
and initiative

Inappropriate separation

Greater exposure to
environment; ability to

Middle childhood
(7–10 years)

Increased independence
from caregivers and ability
to reason

Impaired socioemotional
Acute traumatic stress
reactions and survivor guilt

Sense of industry

Developmental regressions

Ability to work productively

Poor self-concept
Acute traumatic stress

Peers become important

Impaired ability to overcome
future trauma

Early adolescence
(11–14 years)

Organization of behavior in
pursuit of goals

Ability to work productively
with others

Rejection of limits on

Increased abstract thinking

Control expression of

Trauma-reactive behaviors

Emotional crisis and

Development of cohesive

Adult sexual development
and sexuality

Resolution of conflicts with
family and society

Premature termination of
dependency relationship
with parent

Formal abstract thinking

Ability to engage in adult
work and relationships

Increased aggression

Late adolescence
(15–18 years)

Increased independence

Intergenerational crime and

Source: Adapted from Katherine Gabel and Denise Johnston, Children of Incarcerated Parents (New York: Lexington Books, 1997),
with permission from Lexington Books.


FIGURE 2. Children’s Living Arrangements during Parental


Male prisoners
Female prisoners








6.4 4.9

Other parent Grandparent
of child
of child


2.4 1.8
Foster home
or agency

5.3 4.9


Source: Christopher J. Mumola, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
NCJ 182335, 2000).

Across developmental periods, parental arrest and incarceration may impact maturational progress. These effects can
vary considerably given the child’s age. For example, parental
incarceration interrupts key developmental tasks, particularly
during adolescence, when parent-child relations strongly
influence issues of identity.10
The extent to which parental incarceration impacts children’s
living arrangements is closely related to whether the incarcerated parent was the child’s exclusive caregiver. Two-thirds
of incarcerated mothers are the sole custodial parent before
incarceration.11 By contrast, roughly 40 percent of fathers in
prison reported living with their children prior to imprisonment, but the majority of these fathers were living with both
their child and the child’s mother. Typically, when the sole
custodial parent is incarcerated, a new caregiver enters the
picture and alternate living arrangements are made. As shown
in figure 2, more than half of the children who lived with their
mother went to live with a grandparent when their mother
was sent to prison. By contrast, nearly 90 percent of children
who lived with their father continued to live with their mother
during their father’s incarceration. For incarcerated mothers,
10 percent have children placed in foster care, compared with
only 2 percent of incarcerated fathers. Yet given the unequal
size of the male and female prison population, in terms of
numbers, more children of incarcerated fathers are in foster
care than children of incarcerated mothers.

When a parent is sent to prison, many dimensions of family
functioning undergo significant changes. The family structure,
financial relationships, income levels, emotional support
systems, and living arrangements may be affected.
Intimate relationships are substantially burdened by incarceration. The forced separation of spouses and other intimate
partners creates enormous strains on those relationships,
frequently ending them. Few prisons allow conjugal visits or
extended contact, which might ameliorate those strains. The
artificial nature of same-sex institutions inhibits the cycles of
dating, friendships, and courtship experienced in free society.
The parent in prison is removed in a psychological sense, not
just physically absent. Most aspects of family life are outside
their sphere of influence and control.


While a spouse or partner is in prison, life for the loved
one left behind also undergoes significant changes. The literature suggests that wives and girlfriends of inmates experience
significant personal change, often gaining independence and
self-sufficiency.12 Such changes can alter the spouse’s expectations of the familial role the prisoner will play upon his or her
return. In addition, changes in family composition during an
inmate’s absence can preclude the prisoner from resuming his
or her role upon return.13 For example, the introduction of a
new father figure in the lives of a prisoner’s children may forever alter the father’s relationship to his children. The social
stigma of incarceration may prompt adult family members
to avoid complicated or difficult discussions with children to
explain the absence of an incarcerated family member. Being
kept in the dark about a family member’s incarceration can
influence the child emotionally and psychologically, and this
in turn impacts the restoration of parent-child relationships.
Incarceration can also damage the financial situations of
the families left behind. Most parents (71%) in state prison
were employed either full- or part-time in the month preceding their arrest. Among incarcerated fathers, 60 percent held
a full-time job prior to imprisonment, compared with 39
percent of mothers. For fathers, these wages were the primary
source of income for their families (68%). Other sources of
income included public assistance (13%), family and friends
(18%), and illegal sources (27%). More than half (53%) of
fathers had a personal income below $1,000 and another
quarter (25%) had a personal income below $2,000 in the
month prior to their arrest. Mothers relied primarily on wages
(44%) and public assistance (42%) as primary sources of
income. They also relied on family and friends (26%) as
well as illegal sources (28%) for income. Child support only
accounted for about 6 percent of mothers’ income. More than
half (51%) of incarcerated mothers had a personal income
below $600 and another third (35%) had a personal income
below $2,000 in the month prior to their arrest.14 For incarcerated parents, these sources of income are terminated when
they go to prison. Sharing income with one’s family is all but
eliminated as most prisoners, even those with prison jobs,
earn as little as $350 a year.15 This financial loss disproportionately burdens families already living in poverty.16

• Inadequate information about visiting procedures.
• Difficulty scheduling visits.
• Geographic location of prison facilities.
• Family’s inability to afford transportation.
• Visiting procedures that are uncomfortable
or humiliating.
• Visiting rooms that are inhospitable to children.
• Foster parents or caregivers who are unwilling
to facilitate visits.
Source: Women’s Prison Association, When a Mother Is Arrested:
How the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems Can Work
Together More Effectively (Baltimore: Maryland Department of
Human Resources, 1996).


However, in some cases, parental incarceration may temporarily improve a family’s circumstances. For example, if the
incarcerated parent was abusive, then a period of separation
may bring relief to the family and improve living conditions.
Similarly, the incarceration of a drug-addicted family member
who stole money and property from his or her relatives may
stop the drain on family resources. But more typically, the
separation due to imprisonment has a negative impact on
the family.

Simply maintaining contact with family members is difficult.
While many correction departments recognize the value of
communication between prisoners and their families, correctional practices—reflecting the security mission of prisons—
often impede the maintenance of family ties.17 Intimidating
security procedures, geographic distances between prison
facilities and family residences, the time-consuming nature of
visits, and the general lack of visiting arrangements conducive to
parent-child interaction severely inhibit these visits (see sidebar).
Even long-distance phone calls can be problematic. State
prison facilities frequently enter into contracts with phone
companies that result in unusually high charges for longdistance calls. Phone companies stand to gain as much as
$85 million from these contracts.18 For example, California
receives commissions of more than $35 million each year
from the phone companies.19 Some corrections agencies then
use these additional revenues to provide programs or other

Studies comparing the outcomes of prisoners
who maintained family connections during prison
through letters and personal visits with those
who did not suggest that maintaining family
ties reduces recidivism rates.

services that may benefit the inmates.20 Yet, because prisoners
can only place collect calls, it is the prisoners’ families who
absorb the financial burden of this arrangement.21
Some prison facilities have made efforts to improve prison visitation procedures and accommodate families. For example, in
March 2002, the Tennessee Prison for Women opened a Child
Visitation Unit—a 16-bed addition to the prison that allows a
child from three months to six years old to spend the weekend
with his or her incarcerated mother, separate from the rest of
the prison population and facilities.22 In Washington State,
the McNeil Island Correction Center (MICC), in conjunction
with the MICC Community Advisory Council, developed a
comprehensive family and fatherhood program for incarcerated men and their families. The program teaches incarcerated
fathers the skills of active and involved parenting, encourages
them to provide financial support for their children, facilitates
programs for prisoners’ families, and coordinates activities for
children and their incarcerated fathers.23 In Florida, the
Department of Corrections offers a program for incarcerated
mothers to maintain weekly contact with their children
through videos. The program, “Reading and Family Ties—
Face to Face,” allows incarcerated mothers and their children
to transmit live video recordings via the Internet. Each live
video session takes place weekly over the course of an hour,
and is available at no cost to the families.24
Research findings highlight the importance of contact among
family members during incarceration. Facilitating contact has
been shown to reduce the strain of separation and increase the
likelihood of successful reunification.25 Studies comparing the
outcomes of prisoners who maintained family connections
during prison through letters and personal visits with those
who did not suggest that maintaining family ties reduces
recidivism rates.26 Several studies have also indicated that
providing services to the families of recently released prisoners
results in positive outcomes for the former inmates, including
lower rates of physical, mental, and emotional problems, drug
use, and recidivism.27


Reentry is a challenging process along several dimensions.
Upon release, former prisoners must find housing, employment, and health care. With access to public housing and
assistance restricted by law, many struggle to find suitable living arrangements and financial support. Finding employment
is also difficult for many returning prisoners, who often have
limited educational backgrounds and vocational skills and face
legal barriers to joining certain professions and discrimination
from potential employers. Those with a history of substance
abuse also confront the risk of relapse after release.

What does it say?
Once a child has been in foster care for 15 of the most
recent 22 months, the ASFA requires the state to file a
petition to terminate parental rights. Important exceptions
exist, including if the child is in relative care and if the
termination would not be in the best interest of the child.
What is the impact on incarcerated parents?
Because women serve an average of 18 months in
prison, many female inmates whose children are in

For a family who has struggled in an inmate’s absence, many
barriers make it difficult for family members to resume support roles when the prisoner returns home. These barriers can
include new relationships, relocation, limited finances, and
feelings of resentment. Even in instances where families are in
a position to offer support to a returning inmate, reentry is
still an extremely challenging process for the ex-offender.
Barriers to finding employment and housing, as well as pressures from former peer groups and detachment from loved
ones, all contribute to the personal challenges with which a
returning prisoner grapples.
Amidst these difficulties in the reentry process, restoring the
parent-child relationship after incarceration can be particularly complex. New relationships may have formed in the
inmate’s absence. The lack of contact during imprisonment
may have attenuated the parent-child bonds. Structural
changes may have altered relationships between family
members. Feelings of shame and the social stigma of
incarceration may create additional strains.
For a small share of returning prisoners, reunification after
nonrelative foster care placement is an additional difficult
reality. As discussed earlier, some incarcerated mothers (10%)
and fathers (2%) have children placed in foster care during
their imprisonment. Although a greater percentage of mothers
have children placed in foster care, more children of incarcer-

nonrelative foster care may face the possibility of losing
their parental rights.
Source: E. Johnson and J. Waldfogel, Children of Incarcerated
Parents: Cumulative Risk and Children’s Living Arrangements
(New York: Columbia University, 2002).


ated fathers are placed into foster care because the vast
majority (93%) of parents in prison are fathers. Parents
returning from prison who wish to take their children out
of foster care must demonstrate that they now can adequately
care and provide for their children. But little help is available
to parents in finding suitable housing, employment, and child
care, which are required before reunification can take place.
Additional complications arise for parents who received public
assistance prior to incarceration. They are one and a half times
more likely to have their children placed in foster care than
parents who did not receive public assistance prior to their
arrest.28 Receipt of public assistance may be associated
with a weak family support network and an inability to find
adequate relative care. This may present additional burdens
for reunification.
Some parents have their parental rights terminated while
they are in prison. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act
authorizes states to initiate termination of parental rights
proceedings when a child has been placed in foster care for
15 months in a 22-month period (see sidebar). Many states
have supplemented ASFA with legislation that relieves the state
of making reasonable efforts to reunify families when “aggravated circumstances” are present. In a few states (Alaska,
California, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Dakota) parental
incarceration qualifies as an “aggravated circumstance.”
Another issue facing some prisoners is child support. Parents
who are subject to formal child support agreements are under
additional pressure to find a sufficient source of income to
start paying child support immediately upon release. Child
support payments usually accumulate during a parent’s prison
term, although a few states and localities suspend payments
during periods of incarceration. For example, Iowa considers
incarceration an involuntary act and the incarcerated debtor
entitled to a modification of his or her child support pay-

Families can play a critical role in improving
the lives of returning prisoners. These interventions can meet the needs of the family,
the released inmate, and the larger society.

ments.29 In addition, in Kansas and Virginia, incarcerated
parents who have neither the possibility of parole nor sufficient assets to make child support payments are granted
exemptions from some child support obligations.30
Analyses in two states (Colorado and Massachusetts) indicate
that released prisoners have an average child support debt of
over $16,000, a combination of both pre-prison and duringprison nonpayment.31 On average, inmates in Massachusetts
accrued more than $5,000 in arrears while behind bars (see
figure 3). These debts are substantial, especially for parents
who face many employment barriers upon release. Prisoners
must be prepared to work with the child support agency to
develop payment plans or else they risk an automatic deduction of 65 percent of their paycheck or even criminal penalties,
especially when the child support is owed in another state.
Nonpayment of debts can add another state misdemeanor
or state or federal felony conviction and more prison time.
In addition, failure to pay child support can create additional
tensions between the supporting parent and the incarcerated
parent who defaults on payments. These tensions can alter the
balance of power in parenting relationships, making child visitation during prison and reunification after prison difficult.
Families can play a critical role in improving the lives of
returning prisoners. Family interventions are based on the
notion that strengthening the family support network for a
returning prisoner will improve his or her chances of success.
These interventions can thus meet the needs of the family,
the released inmate, and the larger society. The few studies
of these interventions are very encouraging. For example, an
evaluation of La Bodega de la Familia, the direct service arm
of Family Justice, Inc., which provides support to the families
of drug users in the criminal justice system, found that the
rate of illicit drug use among program participants declined
from 80 percent to 42 percent, a significantly greater decrease
than among those who did not participate in the program. In
addition, researchers found that family members participating
in the program obtained medical and social services at substantially higher rates and had fewer needs than those in the
comparison group. Researchers concluded that strengthening
the family network improved outcomes for both the returning
prisoner and the individual family members.32


The high rates of incarceration affect a relatively small number
of communities across America. These communities already
struggle with high rates of unemployment, crime, drug use,
and poverty. Now they also face the added burden posed by
the record levels of community residents who are sent to, and
return from, prison. These communities therefore have a vested interest in the outcomes of returning prisoners and the
state of their family networks during and after incarceration.
Communities can play an active role in improving the outcomes of released inmates and their families. Communitybased organizations are well positioned to provide assistance
with housing, substance abuse treatment, health care, employment, child care, counseling, and vocational training. They can
make contact with prisoners prior to release to assist in the
reentry process. These groups also play an important role in
preparing the community for a prisoner’s return.
Many social service agencies provide services to former
prisoners and their families. However, the delivery of these
services may not be aligned to reflect the unique demands of
the incarceration and reentry processes. For example, a returning prisoner may be eligible for community-based drug treatment but might be referred to join a waiting list upon his or
her release from prison, during a high-risk time for relapse.
Similarly, a public school may offer counseling to students
experiencing difficult life crises, but may not be aware that
a young person is severely stressed by the impending return
of an incarcerated parent. By recognizing the service overlap
and strategically coordinating these services to respond to the
needs created by the criminal justice process, children and
families are more likely to benefit. In addition, there is also
a role for applied child developmental theory and research,
where university-community collaborations can enhance
program design and evaluate current program performance.
But there is also a risk that involving multiple service agencies
potentially increases the demands and conditions placed on
family members, causing further strain to families. Therefore,
the collaborative efforts of child protective services, health
and human services, research organizations, and the criminal
justice system are a central part of improving the outcomes
of prisoners and their families.

FIGURE 3. Total Child Support Arrears Owed among
Massachusetts’ Prisoner Population


$20,001 or more




Source: Adapted from Nancy Thoennes, Child Support Profile: Massachusetts
Incarcerated and Paroled Parents (Denver: Center for Policy Research, 2002).


Creating comprehensive strategies to mitigate the harmful
effects of incarceration and reentry upon prisoners, their
children, and their families is an enormous challenge. In
recent years, a number of innovative efforts have pointed
the way to new models for reentry management. In cities
such as Oakland, Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Cleveland,
mayors have designated prisoner reentry a priority for their
municipal administrations. These cities have created coordinating committees that cut across city services and community organizations. Other cities, including Baltimore, San Diego,
and Winston-Salem, have formed community coalitions

Many social service agencies provide services to
former prisoners and their families. However, the
delivery of these services may not be aligned to
reflect the unique demands of the incarceration
and reentry processes.

to work with returning prisoners and their families at the
neighborhood level. These fledging efforts underscore both
the potential and difficulties inherent in local mobilization
efforts on behalf of the families and children of incarcerated
members of the community.

The unprecedented levels of incarceration and prisoner
reentry in America are having widespread and poorly understood consequences for the families and children of prisoners.
Clearly, more research is needed to document the hidden costs
of our criminal justice policies. At the same time, policymakers, practitioners, service providers, and community organizations need to focus on the ripple effects of these policies and
the opportunities for more systematic and coordinated efforts
to reduce the harms so broadly experienced.



P. Harrison and A. Beck. 2002. “Prisoners in 2001.” Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Bulletin. NCJ 195189. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of
Justice Statistics.

2 C. Mumola. 2000. “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.” Bureau of
Justice Statistics, Special Report. NCJ 182335. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,

Hagan and Petty. 2002. “Returning Captives of the American War on
Drugs: Issues of Community and Family Reentry.” Paper prepared for the
Reentry Roundtable, Washington, D.C., Oct. 12–13, 2000.


C. Mumola. 2000. “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.”


Ibid. It is important to note here that the prison time actually served is
substantially less than the original sentence length.



Gerald G. Gates, Timothy J. Flanagan, Laurence L. Motiuk, and Lynn
Stewart. 1999. “Adult Correctional Treatment.” In Prisons: Crime and Justice:
A Review of Research, edited by Joan Petersilia. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

James P. Lynch and William J. Sabol. 2001. “Prisoner Reentry in
Perspective.” Crime Policy Report 3. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.


The Osborne Association. “How Can I Help? Working with Children of
Incarcerated Parents.” See also Denise Johnston. 1992. Children of Offenders.
Pasadena, Calif.: Pacific Oaks Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents;
and Stanton. 1980. When Mothers Go to Jail. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington

Richard Lerner. 2002. Concepts and Theories of Human Development (3rd
ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

L.A. Greenfield and T.L. Snell. 1999. “Women Offenders.” Bureau of Justice
Statistics, Special Report. NCJ 175688. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

F.F. Furstenberg, Jr. 1995. “Fathering in the Inner-City: Paternal
Participation and Public Policy.” In Research on Men and Masculinities Series,
7, by M.S. Kimmel and M. Marsiglio (119–47). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage

K. McDermott and R.D. King. 1992. “ ‘Prison Rule 102: Stand by Your
Man,’ The Impact of Penal Policy on the Families of Prisoners.” In Prisoners’
Children: What Are the Issues?, edited by R. Shaw. London: Routledge.
C. Mumola. 2000. “Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.”


Esther Griswold and Jessica Pearson. 2003. “Twelve Reasons for
Collaboration between Departments of Correction and Child Support
Enforcement Agencies.” Corrections Today: 87–90.

D. Johnston and M. Carlin. 1996. “Enduring Trauma among Children of
Incarcerated Criminal Offenders.” Progress: Family Systems Research and
Therapy 5: 9–36.

C.F. Hairston. 2002. Prisoners and Families: Parenting Issues During
Incarceration. Paper prepared for the “From Prison to Home” conference,
Jan. 30–31.



States such as Ohio, Florida, and New York require that these commissions are directed into an inmate welfare fund. These states even have legislation mandating specifically how the money in this fund can be spent. A
handful of states, including California, Hawaii, Delaware, and Virginia, take
the phone commissions and place them into a general state fund, where they
can be allocated to anything.

Families across the country are filing lawsuit against phone companies.
Families of Illinois prison inmates sued MCI, AT&T, and Ameritech for
unfairly charging higher rates for collect calls from jails. In 1997, the Florida
Public Service Commission ordered MCI to refund customers for overcharging them by $2 per call for collect calls made from Florida correctional
facilities. MCI reduced its surcharges after the state of Virginia negotiated a
new contract in response to complaints from prisoners and their families.




Jennifer Warren. 2002. “Inmates’ Families Pay Heaving Price for Staying
in Touch,” Los Angeles Times, February 16. Also “Ameritech officials estimate
that in the Midwest, inmate phones now constitute half of the company’s
pay phone market.” Steven Elbow. October 5, 2002. “Jailhouse phone shakedown; corporations, lockups and prison here profit by forcing inmates to
make collect calls at crushing rates.” The Madison Capital Times.

Quenton White. March 8, 2002. “Women’s Prison Dedicates New Child
Visitation Unit.” News release, Department of Corrections, Tennessee.

For an overview of the program, please visit


Women’s Prison Association. 1996. When a Mother Is Arrested: How
the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems Can Work Together More
Effectively: A Needs Assessment Initiated by the Maryland Department
of Human Resources.

C.F. Hairston. 1998. “Family Ties During Imprisonment: Do They
Influence Future Criminal Activity?” Federal Probation: 48–52.

Eileen Sullivan, Milton Mino, Katherine Nelson, and Jill Pope. 2002.
Families as a Resource in Recovery from Drug Abuse: An Evaluation of La
Bodega de la Familia. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.
28 Elizabeth Inez Johnson and Jane Waldfogel. 2002. “Children of
Incarcerated Parents: Cumulative Risk and Children’s Living Arrangements.”
New York: Columbia University.

Leasure v. Leasure, 378 Pa. Super. 613, 549 A.2d 225 (1988). See also In re
Barker, 600 N.W.2d 321 (Iowa 1999). In this case, the mother’s incarceration
on drug charges constituted a change in circumstance, warranting a downward modification.


See, for example, Kansas C.S.G., Supreme Court Admin. Order No. 107
(1997 Kan. Ct. R. Ann. 89); Rupp v. Grubb, 265 Kan. 711, 962 P.2d 1074
(1998); Va. Code § 20-108.2(B) (2001). There is an exemption to using the
presumed minimum income in determining the basic child support obligation where the parent is imprisoned with no chance
of parole and insufficient assets from which to pay support.

Esther Griswold and Jessica Pearson. 2003. “Twelve Reasons for
Collaboration between Departments of Correction and Child Support
Enforcement Agencies,” Corrections Today: 87–90. Full state reports:
(Colorado) Jessica Pearson and Lanae Davis. “Serving Parents Who Leave
Prison: Final Report on the Work and Family Center.” Denver: Center for
Policy Research; (Massachusetts) Nancy Thoennes. “Child Support Profile:
Massachusetts Incarcerated and Paroled Parents.” Denver: Center for Policy

Sullivan et al., La Bodega de la Familia.


For Further Reading
Several publications explore the challenges faced by families
and children of incarcerated parents and present pertinent
information related to this topic. Below are suggested works
for future reading:
Travis, Jeremy, and Michelle Waul, ed. Forthcoming. Prisoners Once
Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families,
and Communities. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press.
From Prison to Home: The Effect of Incarceration and Reentry on Children,
Families and Communities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services.
Pattillo, Mary J., David Weiman, and Bruce Western, ed. Forthcoming.
The Impact of Incarceration on Families and Communities.
Travis, Jeremy, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul. 2001. From Prison to
Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry. Washington,
D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Travis, Jeremy, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul. 2002. Background
Paper: The Effect of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and
Communities. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute. Available at
Gadsden, Vivian L., ed. 2003. Heading Home: Offender Reintegration into the
Family. Lanham, Md.: American Correctional Association.
Gabel, Katherine, and Denise Johnston, ed. 1997. Children of Incarcerated
Parents. New York: Lexington Books.
Mumola, Christopher J. 2000. Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.
NCJ 182335. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Available at
Johnson, Elizabeth Inez, and Jane Waldfogel. 2002. “Children of Incarcerated
Parents: Cumulative Risk and Children’s Living Arrangements.” New York:
Columbia University. Available at
Braman, Donald. 2002. “Families and Incarceration.” In Invisible
Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Incarceration, edited by
Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind (117–35). New York: New York Press.
Edenfield, Ann. 2002. Families Arrested, How to Survive the Incarceration of a
Loved One. Albuquerque: Americana Publishing.
Hairston, Creasie Finney. 1991. “Family Ties During Imprisonment:
Important to Whom and for What?” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare
18: 87–104.
Johnston, Denise. 2001. “Incarceration of Women and Effects on Parenting.”
Paper presented at the Institute for Policy Studies conference on “The
Effects of Incarceration on Children and Families,” Northwestern University,
May 5.

Seymour, Cynthia B., and Lois E. Wright. 2000. Working with Children and
Families Separated by Incarceration: A Handbook for Child Welfare Agencies.
Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America Press.
Sullivan, Eileen, Milton Mino, Katherine Nelson, and Jill Pope. 2002.
Families as a Resource in Recovery from Drug Abuse: An Evaluation of La
Bodega de la Familia. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.
Child Welfare League of America.
The Osborne Association: Youth and Family Resources.
Call 1-800-334-3414 (toll-free information hotline).
The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents.
The Legal Action Center.
Long Distance Dads. Call 717-671-7231 or write to National Fatherhood
Initiative, c/o Charles Stuart, POB 126157, Harrisburg, PA 17112-6157.
Children of Incarcerated Parents, Inc. Call 781-899-6230 or write to c/o
Susan Burkart, 6 Hemlock Terrace, Waltham, MA 02452.
Family and Fatherhood Program at McNeil Island Corrections Center.
Contact Rick Jordan at 253-512-6583 or
National Center on Fathers and Families.
Family and Corrections Network.
Children and Family Networks.
Center on Fathers, Families and Public Policy. 23 N. Pinckney Street,
Suite 210, Madison, WI 53703. Call 608-257-3148.
Families of Incarcerated Loved Ones. Call 512-443-0716 or e-mail
Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers. Call 404-755-3262.

This policy brief was made possible by a grant from the
Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works to build better
futures for disadvantaged children and their families in
the United States. The authors thank the Foundation for
its support.
The Urban Institute (UI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy
research and educational organization established in
Washington, D.C., in 1968. Views expressed in this report
are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the
views of the Institute, its trustees, or its funders.
In collaboration with practitioners, public officials, and
community groups, UI’s Justice Policy Center carries
out research to inform the national dialogue on crime,
justice, and community safety.

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