Children: The Unseen Victims of Incarceration

Corectional Medical Care

After reaching its peak in 1996 when it spiked to about 8.5 percent, the juvenile arrest rate within the United States has dropped fairly steadily throughout recent years, reaching an all-time low of around 3 percent in 2014.

Seeing this percent drop is of paramount importance to the well-being of juveniles around the country. The statistics point towards fewer and fewer adolescents being arrested year to year with few exceptions, the rater now lower than it has been since at least 1980.


The adolescent arrest rate from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Adults, however, aren’t pulling their weight in ensuring their children aren’t affected by the prison system. While juvenile incarcerations have sharply dropped, adult incarceration has done quite the opposite, jumping in previous years to all-time highs.

Sentencing Project graph

The Sentencing Project shows the uptick in adult incarceration in the US.

The attached graph from the Sentencing Project shows the drastic uptick in incarcerated adults over time. The United States continues to lead the way in this department, as roughly 70 out of every 10,000 people in the US currently find themselves incarcerate at the state or federal level.

And while the juveniles aren’t finding themselves behind prison bars as often as they used to, they’re still certainly feeling the effects that prison can have on a family.

According to, 2.7 million children have at least one parent who is currently serving time at a state or federal level. This translates to about one in every 28 children suffering the effects of living with an imprisoned mother or father. In what may be an even more unfortunate twist, some aren’t even aware their parent has been incarcerated, as some guardians choose to walk the tightrope between telling a child and lying about their whereabouts.

The impact on the child when a parent is incarcerated is palpable. They see grades drop and self-esteem plummet. Their social lives and relationships with others take a huge hit, as does their physical and mental health. They’re forced to deal with the grief, sadness and often embarrassment that goes hand in hand with the scenario, often without anyone to share it with. The necessity to keep their parent’s whereabouts a secret (assuming they’re aware) can cause social deficits during a child’s formative years and throughout primary school. On top of this, studies have found that stresses like these in the lives of young people can lead to an increased chance of anxiety, obesity, depression and other mental and physical illnesses.

With juvenile arrest rate dropping, it’s important to point out and debunk a commonly believed statistic.  Children with incarcerated parents have no scientifically-proven increased risk of causing trouble themselves, as no studies to date have correlated these two factors.

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