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Parents in Prison Statistics

Parents in Prison Statistics

  • Incarcerated parents of children under the age of 18 increased 79% between 1991 and 2007 (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • Most parents of children under age 18 are younger than 35 years old (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • 75% of incarcerated women have children (Beatty, 1997)
  • The number of children with a mother in prison has doubled between 1991 and 1999 (Mumola, 1999)
  • 22% of all minor children with a parent in prison were under 5 years old (Mumola, 2000)
  • Prior to admission, less than half of the parents in state prison reported living with their children—44% of fathers, 64% of mothers (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • Incarcerated parents are more likely to be in prison due to drugs, not violence (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • Strong family connections and employment are the two most critical elements that reduce the likelihood that fathers will return to prison once released. (NCSL, 2000)

Incarcerated Parents and Stress

  • Stress related to parenting is one of the most highly reported mental health symptoms among incarcerated mothers (Banauch, 1985)
  • Incarcerated mothers report that the separation from their children is one of the most stress-provoking aspects of being incarcerated. This stress is closely followed by their concern about the effect the separation has on their child, and their inability to fulfill their perceived parenting role (Henriques, 1982)
  • Higher levels of parenting stress are related to overall poorer adjustment to prison (Houck & Loper, 2002)
  • Mothers in state prison are more likely than fathers to report histories of homelessness, abuse, and medical or mental health problems (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)

The Incarcerated Parent-Child Relationship

  • Incarcerated men tend to have less contact with their children than incarcerated women (Mumola, 2000)
  • Most incarcerated fathers report that their child lives with his or her mother, while most incarcerated mothers report that their child is with grandparents (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • When mothers are incarcerated, the child may be moved between caregivers and residences several times (Seymour, 1998)
  • 75% of incarcerated mothers report that they have had some kind of contact with their child since they were in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008)
  • Visitation is often restricted and limited by the correctional facilities; prisons are often located far from the families of its inmates, making visitation difficult and irregular, as well as expensive with travelling costs (Poehlmann, 2005; Young & Smith, 2000)
  • The struggles of visitation make it more difficult for mothers to stay connected with their children. This loss of connection may help explain why mothers in prison have a more difficult time adjusting to prison life than non mothers (Coll, Surrey, Buccio-Notaro & Molla, 1998; Fogel & Martin, 1992)



  • Beatty, C. (1997). Parents in prison: Children in crisis (Issue Brief). Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
  • Banauch, P. (1985). Mothers in prison. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997). Prisoners in 1996 (BJS Publication No. NCJ 164619). Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • Coll, C., Surrey, J., Buccio-Notaro, P., & Molla, B. (1998). Incarcerated mothers: Crimes and punishments. In C.G. Coll, J.L. Surrey, & E. Weingarten (Eds.). Mothering against the odds: Diverse voices of contemporary mothers (pp. 255-274). New York: Guilford.
  • Fogel, C. & Martin, S. (1992). The mental health of incarcerated women. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 14, 30-47.
  • Glaze, L. & Maruschak, L. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. Bureau of justice statistics special report NCJ 222984. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  • Henriques, Z (1982). Imprisoned mothers and their children: A descriptive and analytic study. Washington, DC: University Press of America.
  • Loper, A.B. (2006). How do mothers in prison differ from non mothers? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 15(1).
  • Mumola, C. (1999). Substance abuse treatment, state, and federal prisoners, 1997. Bureau of Justice statistics special report NCJ 172871. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.
  • Mumola, C. (2000). Incarcerated parents and their children (No. 182335). Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  • National Conference of State Legislators (2000). Connecting low-income fathers and families: A guide to practical policies.
  • Poehlmann, J. (2005). Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers. Child Development, 76(3).
  • Seymore, C. (1998). Children with parents in prison: Child welfare policy, program, and practice issues. Child Welfare, 77, 469-494.
  • Young, D., & Smith, C. (2000). When moms are incarcerated: The needs of children, mothers, and caregivers. Families in society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 81, 130-141.


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