Justice for children whose parents are in prison

Three million children in the United States are estimated to have one or both parents in prison.   Here is some information about these children:

  • 1 in 15 African American children has a parent in prison.  For white children the figure is 1 in 110.
  • About half of parents in prison have never had a personal visit from their children.
  • Half of children with an incarcerated mother live with their grandmother.
  • Children of prisoners are 5 times more likely to go to prison themselves than other children.
  • Common reactions include feelings of guilt, shame and loss; fear of abandonment and loss of support; anxiety; attention disorders; traumatic stress and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Longer-term results can include maturation regression as well as reduced ability to cope with stress and trauma.
  • The associated stress and trauma often results in both short and long term mental health, behavioral and educational issues.

The impact of prisons on families has been called the collateral damage of crime and of our justice policies.  Nell Bernstein, in her important book, All Alone in the World, states it eloquently:

“These children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them:  their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection.  Their lives are profoundly affected….”

What Will Happen to Me? is intended to bring attention to these children.  Rather than speak for them, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to present themselves through their portraits and words.

The book is also designed for those who care for these children:  grandparents, teachers, social workers.  Using a restorative justice framework, it concludes with an essay on the justice needs of these children.  The appendix includes suggested resources and the Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated.

For a preview of some of these photos and stories, see my photo story at visualpeacemakers.org.

While not “officially” released until January, the book is now available at stores such as Amazon.com.

Also just off the press and to be released shortly is a new edition of Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences that has been out of print for several years. The new edition contains a number of updates on people and statistics.

(For more information on families of prisoners, see The National Reentry Resource Center.

NEW January 26, 2011:

Story in Ebony online.

Interview on Michael Eric Dyson Show.