WASHINGTON, DC – A new, first-of-its-kind report released today finds that nearly half of all adults in the United States – approximately 113 million people – have an immediate family member who is either formerly or currently incarcerated. Based on new research conducted by FWD.us and Cornell University, this is the first ever national estimate of the share of Americans who have had an immediate family member spend time behind bars.
“These numbers are stunning, all the more so if you think of them not as numbers but as stories like mine,” said Felicity Rose, Director of Research and Policy for Criminal Justice Reform at FWD.us. “One of the worst parts of growing up with my father in and out of prison was the isolation and shame I felt. I hope that this new research energizes reform efforts and that it can help the millions of people who have also experienced family incarceration feel a little less alone this holiday season.”
Among the report’s key findings: nearly half of all adults living in the United States have experienced incarceration in their family. In fact, one in seven adults has had an immediate family member incarcerated for more than one year, and one in 34 has had a loved one incarcerated for 10 years or more.
While incarceration impacts people from all walks of life — for example, rates of family incarceration are similar for Republicans and Democrats — the impact is unevenly borne by communities of color and low-income families. Black people are 50 percent more likely than white adults to have a family member who is formerly or currently incarcerated, and a shocking three times more likely to have a family member who has spent at least ten years in prison.
The massive increase in jail and prison populations in the United States over the past 40 years means that more and more families have been touched by incarceration. Existing research clearly demonstrates that the experience of having a loved one incarcerated has serious consequences for the health and financial stability of our families. More than half (54 percent) of the parents who are incarcerated were the primary breadwinners in their families, and three-quarters were employed in the month prior to their arrest. The loss of a family’s primary income source is highly destabilizing and can push families into financial disaster. Having a loved one spend even a single night in jail can be destabilizing and deeply traumatic for family members and this harm can be magnified the longer a person is incarcerated.
“These new findings bring to light the staggering scale of the United States’ incarceration crisis, as nearly 1 in 2 American adults has an immediate family member who is currently or has previously spent time behind bars,” said Todd Schulte, President of FWD.us. “This research corroborates what too many families have known for too long: our current criminal justice system is harming our economy, communities, and families and undermining the promise of what America can and should be.”
The holiday season drives home the pain of millions of families across the country who remain separated from their loved ones due to our harmful criminal justice policies, which waste billions of taxpayer dollars while hurting our economy and failing to make our neighborhoods any safer. Today’s report underscores the far-reaching scope of the challenge, and the critical need for lawmakers at the state and federal level to pursue policies that support families impacted by incarcerated.
For more information and to read the full report, visit https://everysecond.fwd.us.