Four decades of high incarceration rates in the U.S. are “destroying families and communities, especially those that are already vulnerable to health disparities, violence and lack of opportunities,” according to a September 2015 report led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The effects of mass incarceration, the report continues, endure “for generations and are felt most deeply by women, low-income families and communities of color.”
Nearly one in every 100 American adults is currently behind bars, a rate 5 to 10 times higher than in Western Europe and other democracies, according to a 2014 National Academy of Sciences, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States. The annual cost of incarceration in the U.S. is about $80 billion, topping spending on housing, transportation and higher education, according to the Ella Baker Center report, entitled Who Pays?: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.
About 2.7 million minors in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, according to the Pew Center on the States’ report Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. The rate of children who have a parent in prison differs dramatically by race. More than 11 percent of Black children and 3.5 percent of Hispanic children have at least one incarcerated parent, compared to 1.8 percent of White children.
Nearly a third of the incarcerated individuals surveyed said their imprisonment hurt their parent-child relationship or that imprisonment caused separation or divorce in their families. Research shows that longer sentences increased the likelihood of dissolution of relationships. However, the same research also shows that when families kept in contact through regular visits and phone calls, their relationships became stronger, and they stayed together.
The True Cost of Incarceration on Families reports that nearly two-thirds of respondents with an incarcerated family member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs. Respondents cited significant costs related to phone calls and visits about one-third of the time. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that added telephone fees constituted more than one-third of the annual $1 billion that families pay to call family members in prison.
Healthy family relationships and economic stability have been shown to reduce recidivism, according to The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.
|“More than half of people in U.S. jails and prisons have mental health issues”|
More than half of people in U.S. jails and prisons have mental health issues, and “these issues are often exacerbated during imprisonment because prisons and jails are unequipped to provide adequate or appropriate health services and treatment,” the report reads. “Participants shared that health impacts in their families were intergenerational and sometimes had the most severe consequences for children of incarcerated parents.”
More than three-fourths of survey respondents said finding work after prison was “very difficult or nearly impossible.” A 20-year longitudinal study, for example, found that prison time reduced an employee’s wages by up to 20 percent.
More than one in five survey respondents reported that their conviction had resulted directly in a denial of some type of public assistance, such as general assistance, housing or nutrition assistance through federal programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly one-third of those denied had families with children and said that they most often were denied food stamps.
According to the National Institute of Justice Collateral Consequences Inventory, there are more than 44,000 federal, state and local restrictions placed on people with a criminal conviction, including licensing bans, street vending and cab driving.