National Facts: Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis
Date:  06-20-2014

Women neglected or abused as children 77 percent more likely to be arrested than those who were not neglected or abused
With the Free Her Rally taking place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on June 21, 2014 (see Reentry Central June 11, 2014), Reentry Central thought that some facts on mothers in prison and the effect it has on their children might be both appropriate and useful.

In 2012 the US Department of justice reported that there were approximately 109,000 women in state and federal prisons. This number does not reflect the number of women in jail, or ICE detainees.

The following facts were collected by the Arkansas Educational Television Network.

Mothers in Prison National Facts

  • The number of women in prisons and jails is increasing at a faster rate than that of men. Nationally, there are now nearly seven times as many women in prison as in 1980. (U. S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs)

  • By the end of 1996, 859,400 women were under correctional supervision (either in prison, jail, on probation or parole). (U. S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs)

  • 75% of women in prison are mothers. Two-thirds of these women have children under the age of 18. (U.S. Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics) 72% of women prisoners with children under 18 lived with those children before entering prison (Child Welfare League of America)

  • 25% of adult women in prison have either given birth at some point during the year prior to their incarceration or are pregnant at the time of their arrest. A survey of state prison warden found that "less than 50% [of their facilities] had written policies specifically relating to medical care for pregnant women [and] only 48% offered prenatal services. Of the facilities in this second category, 21% offered prenatal counseling, 15% offered counseling to help mothers to find suitable placements for their infants after birth and 15% had policies for lighter or no work during pregnancy. " (U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs)

  • Most women who use illegal drugs while pregnant are white, yet in several studies, the vast majority of women either reported or arrested for drug use are women of color. (The Guttmacher Report, 1998)

  • 78% of women in prison report that they have been physically or sexually abused. Someone they knew, in contrast to 3% of men abused 50% of these women. 56% reported that the abuse also included rape.

  • Women who were abused or neglected as children face a 77% higher chance of arrest than a comparison group of women who did not experience abuse or neglect. (U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs)

  • Of those prisoners who commit violent acts, women are two times more likely than men to know the other person involved. (U.S. Department of Justice: National Institute of Justice) In fact, nearly two thirds of the women serving a sentence for a violent crime knew the other person involved in the crime. (U.S. Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics) The vast majority of these women were defending themselves or their children from abuse. The average prison time for a woman who kills her spouse/ partner is twice that of a man who kills his spouse/ partner. (Turning the Tide, 1998)

  • Black women are incarcerated at a rate eight times that of a white women. (The Sentencing project)

  • 5.1% of black and Hispanic females are likely to go to prison or jail at least one time during their lifetime, as compared to .5% of white females. (The Sentencing Project)

  • 22.3% of women in prison held no job prior to incarceration. Of those who had jobs, two-thirds reported never receiving more than $6.50 per hour. (Wellisch, Anglin and Prendergast, Journal of Drug Issues 1993)

    Children in Crisis National Facts

  • There are over 6 million children of parents under correctional supervision in the United States. This number includes 2 million children of incarcerated parents. (The Ctr. For Children of Incarcerated Parents)

  • 10 million more children have parents who have been imprisoned some time in their lives. (Fathers in Prison: A Review of the Data, NCFF)

  • Women currently in prison or jail are mothers to more than 250,000 children, the majority of whom are under 18 years of age. (U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs)

  • The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) estimates that conservatively 9% of women in U.S. prisons and jails are pregnant. Given that 150,000 are currently incarcerated, we can assume that at least 13,500 of incarcerated women are currently pregnant.

  • The majority of children separated from their mother because of her incarceration subsequently live with their maternal grandmother. Only 17% of the children stay with their father. The remaining children live with other relatives, friends or in foster care. (National Council on Crime and Delinquency)

  • Many states do not recognize family relations as legitimate foster care and deny them financial support and social services. (National Council on Crime and Delinquency)

  • 60% of imprisoned mothers say they maintain some form of weekly contact with their children. However, fewer than half of imprisoned mothers (46%) report a personal visit with their children since going to prison. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children)

  • Over 60% of mothers in prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their children, making visitation difficult, financially prohibitive and often impossible. (National Council on Crime Delinquency)

  • One in five children of incarcerated mothers witnessed their mother's arrest. There are few policies or protocols in place to ensure that children's needs are met. Law enforcement offers pay little attention to the needs of the arrestee's children. (Child Welfare League of America, Children with Incarcerated parents: An Overview of the Statistics)

  • Children of incarcerated parents are never treated as victims despite the fact that their mother's or father's arrest could be the latest in a long series of traumatic episodes. (Nat'l Institute of Justice, Marilyn Moses)

  • Children of incarcerated parents are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, aggression, truancy, attention disorders and poor scholastic performance. (National Institute of Justice)

  • Nationally, foster care for a prisoner's child costs and average of $20,000 per year, adding to the cost of incarcerating their caregivers.

  • Mothers in prison can literally lose their children in the foster care system as the child is shifted from family to family. The Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1996 seeks permanent placement for children who are in foster care 15 months in a period of 22 months.