• One in 32 Americans - 6.9 million adults - was in jail or on parole in 2003. [i]
  • Over the last 30 years, the U.S. prison population has increased by 500 percent.
  • Fewer than one third of men in state prison have finished high school.
  • Only half of women in state prison have finished high school. [ii]
  • Most people involved in the criminal justice system are nonviolent offenders.

Parents in Prison

  • One in forty children in the United States has a parent in prison. [iii]
  • In 1997, an estimated 2.8 percent of children under age 18 had at least one incarcerated parent.
  • Each year, about 400,000 mothers and fathers finish serving prison or jail sentences and return home.
  • In many states, parental rights are terminated based on parents' convictions for crimes not directly related to their ability to care for their children.

Mothers ...

  • On any given day, approximately 84,000 women are in federal and state prisons.
  • On any given day, approximately 70,000 women are incarcerated in county jails.
  • Since 1980, the number of women imprisoned has increased at roughly a 10 percent annual rate.
  • Nationally, from 1993 through 2002, while overall crime was falling, the number of women arrested rose 14.1 percent - in the same period, the number of men arrested fell 5.9 percent.
  • From 1990 through 2002, the number of women in state and federal prisons jumped 121 percent. By comparison, the number of men in state and federal prisons rose 84 percent.
  • Nationally, in 2000, 40 percent of court convictions leading to prison for women were for drug crimes and 34 percent were for property crimes. [iv]
  • The female prison population is doubling every seven to eight years.
  • Approximately seven in ten women under correctional sanction have minor children.
  • Single mothers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population. [v]
  • During 1999, women incarcerated in federal and state prisons or in county jails were mothers to about 250,000 children. Most of these children were less than ten years old - approximately 20 percent were under the age of five. [vi]
  • Women under correctional care, custody, or supervision with children reported an average of 2.11 children.
  • Two-thirds of women in state prison and half of women in federal prison lived with their children prior to entering prison.
  • Over 85 percent of incarcerated mothers plan to reunite with their children after release. [vii]


  • Men serving time in state prisons have nearly eleven times as many minor children as women serving time in state prisons. Men in federal prison had nearly fifteen times the number of minor children as reported by women in federal prison.
  • Four in ten men in state prisons with children said they lived with their children prior to entering prison. Eight in ten men in federal prison with children lived with their children prior to entering prison. [viii]

...and the children they leave behind

  • About one in forty children has an incarcerated father; one in 359 children has an incarcerated mother.
  • 1.5 million children have parents who are currently incarcerated.
  • More than 10 million children have parents who were imprisoned at some point in their children's lives.
  • It is estimated that the cost to society of allowing just one youth to leave high school to enter a life of crime and drug abuse is $1.7 to $2.3 million. [ix]

  • [i] Bureau of Justice Statistics (2004). Almost 6.9 Million on Probation or Parole or Incarcerated in U.S. Prisons or Jails. www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/ppus03pr.htm.
  • [ii] Center for Law and Social Policy. Every Door Closed: Facts About Parents with Criminal Records.
  • [iii] Children of Prisoners Library (2003), Facts and Issues: CPL 101. Introduction to Children of Prisoners. www.fcnetwork.org.
  • [iv] Butterfield, Fox (December 2003), Women Find a New Arena for Equality: Prison, New York Times.
  • [v] University of Chicago Magazine (2003). Research: Investigations, Moms behind bars.95 (5).
  • [vi] George, Susan M. (2003). Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children: A Decade Long Overview. Women, Girls & Criminal Justice, 4 (5) 69.
  • [vii] Center for Law and Social Policy. Keeping Families Connected: Helping Incarcerated Parents Stay Involved with Their Children.
  • [viii] Family& Corrections Network. Reading Room.
  • [ix] Cohen, M. (1998). The monetary value of saving a high risk youth. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 14, 5-34.
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