How do you explain incarceration to a child?
Crime affects many people. The oft-forgotten victims are the children of the incarcerated.
In this month's issue, Smithsonian Magazine focuses on the millions of American children who struggle every day with the effects of incarceration.
COLD, HARD FACTS
Smithsonian Magazine shares that an estimated 2.7 million American children have at least one parent in jail or prison. Half of those children live with or are exposed to someone with a substance abuse problem. A quarter live with someone who is suicidal or mentally ill.
These children are at a high risk of following in their parents' footsteps. Children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to drop out of school, have a higher chance of engaging in delinquent behavior, and are more likely to be incarcerated themselves at some point in their lives.
SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES
President Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison, perhaps put it well in his speech at the Congressional Black Caucus banquet in 2015.
"Mass incarceration rips apart families," he said. "It hollows out neighborhoods. It perpetuates poverty."
An incarcerated parent's absence is felt throughout the community.
Schools that educate a majority of children with parents behind bars see poor grades. They have lower graduation rates than other schools. Children without incarcerated parents in these schools are not immune and also have difficulty in school.
REACHING FOR HOPE
"If you keep [prisoners] close to their family it keeps them more sane," Omyra Dickson explains to Smithsonian Magazine. "It actually keeps them out of trouble."
Prisoners who stay connected with their families are less likely to return to prison.
And for children who exchange letters, make phone calls, or even have the chance to visit their parents in prison, the effort to maintain relationships regardless of prison walls means they do better, too.
At Prison Fellowship®, we recognize the needs of children affected by incarceration. That's why we are committed to the restoration of families.
We offer prisoners multiple programs and classes to prepare them for life after release. Our holistic approach to restoring these individuals is evident in our life-skills classes, mentoring opportunities, and reentry classes designed to develop strong community leaders.
We also minister to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of families with incarcerated loved ones through our Angel Tree® program. Angel Tree serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families.
To find out how you can help children with incarcerated parents, visit our family ministry resources page. Learn more about the needs of these children, as well as the needs of their caregivers.
If you are a caregiver looking for support in raising a child with incarcerated parents, please call 1-800-206-9764.