As the population in U.S. prisons grows, so too does the number of children with incarcerated parents. In 2008, over 1.7 million children had a parent behind bars. Three quarters of all incarcerated women are mothers. In the last 20 years, the number of children with a father in prison has increased by over 75%.
Parental incarceration can expose children to a multiitude of risk factors. These include material hardship and internalized feelings of fear, shame, and grief. Children of incarcerated parents often have difficulty controliing aggressive, self-destructive, and disruptive behaviors.
The correctional system in its current form fails to acknowledge the needs of the children of those it incarcerates. Parents are regularly sent to prisons far away from their homes, making family visits difficult if not impossible. Prison visiting rooms are typically uninviting for children, and many prisoners are not allowed to have contact visits - children are not able to hug, kiss, or hold the hand of their parents. Further, most states provide little to no resources for children upon the incarceration of their parents.
It is imperative, for the good of both the families whom incarceration directly impacts as well as the communities from whence they come, that policy makers seek to address these issues now.