Town Hall Brings Healing & Understanding to Jennings

While we are talking about issues affecting women in the criminal justice system, I would be remiss not to include a wider perspective on the detrimental impact on the children of mothers who find themselves caught in cycles of incarceration.

Since the War on Drugs began in 1980’s America has seen a 100% increase in the rate of children with incarcerated mothers and a 75% increase with incarcerated fathers. It’s difficult to know precisely how many children in America today have been victims of a parent’s incarceration, but estimates reach 2.7 million. But those numbers are only for parents who were actually locked up in prison; to give justice to this topic we must expand the scope through which we view incarceration to include children who have been victimized by MASS Incarceration: Arrests, Pre-Trial Detention, Conviction, Jail, Probation, Imprisonment, and Parole. With the above factors included, the number of children affected easily exceeds 10 million across our nation.

Not surprisingly, there are stark racial and economic disparities amongst those most affected by parental incarceration. African American children are 8 times more likely and Hispanic children 3 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent, than white children. And, when we look at all of incarcerated parents, a massive 40% of them are black fathers.

There are decades of studies, but no blanket answer for how mass incarceration affects children, since we know individual circumstance vary greatly. But there are some common themes that we see in the research: Children growing up with a parent affected by mass incarceration are more likely to:

- Have a difficult time in school and struggle to do the best they are capable of in their academic career

- Be more likely to develop antisocial behaviors, including severe depression

- And most disturbing of all;

- Become incarcerated themselves in the future.

Those facts, taken in context with Missouri’s exploding female drug-related prison population, present a dire warning for the next generation of Missourians. So as we discuss the negative impacts on adults caught in cycles of mass incarceration, remember the children; the small and quiet victims who are put at high risk for being trapped in the same system that plagues their parents.