Prison Orphans

I had not come across any data on the numbers of children who had parents in prison. Then I came across the following, excerpted from The Economist.

Prison orphans–those who have a parent in prison–are six times more likely to end up in prison themselves, than children whose parents are not incarcerated. And there are 1.4 million of these children in America.

More evidence that massive reform of our justice system is needed.

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America has less than 5% of the world’s people but almost 25% of its prisoners. It imprisons 756 people per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the world average. About one in every 31 adults is either in prison or on parole. Black men have a one-in-three chance of being imprisoned at some point in their lives. “A Leviathan unmatched in human history”, is how Glenn Loury, professor of social studies at Brown University, characterises America’s prison system.

Conditions in the Leviathan’s belly can be brutal. More than 20% of inmates report that they have been sexually assaulted by guards or fellow inmates. Federal prisons are operating at more than 130% of capacity. A sixth of prisoners suffer from mental illness of one sort or another. There are four times as many mentally ill people in prison as in mental hospitals.

As well as being brutal, prisons are ineffective. They may keep offenders off the streets, but they fail to discourage them from offending. Two-thirds of ex-prisoners are re-arrested within three years of being released. The punishment extends to prisoners’ families, too. America’s 1.7m “prison orphans” are six times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves. The punishment also sometimes continues after prisoners are released. America is one of only a handful of countries that bar prisoners from voting, and in some states that ban is lifelong: 2% of American adults and 14% of black men are disfranchised because of criminal convictions.

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