A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report offers the following statistics on incarcerated fathers.
Of the state and federal prisoners who had minor children in 2004, 92% were men (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).
Over half of incarcerated fathers (54%) reported that they were the primary source of financial support for their children prior to their incarceration (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).
In 1997, most incarcerated fathers reported incomes below the poverty line prior to incarceration, with 53% earning less than $12,000 in the year before their arrest (Mumola, 2000).
In 2007, a disproportionate number of fathers incarcerated in state prison were African American (42%) or Latino (20%). African American (49%) and Latino (28%) men made up a disproportionate share of fathers in federal prison as well (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).
The average incarcerated father has 2.1 children. Their parenting relationships are often complex, with some men having children with multiple partners. Forty-two percent of state prisoners reported living with one or more of their minor children in the period immediately prior to their incarceration (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).
One-third of fathers in state prison committed their offense while under the influence of illicit drugs. Thirty-seven percent of fathers in state prison committed their offense while under the influence of alcohol (Mumola, 2006).
Mental health issues also plague many incarcerated parents; 49% of fathers in state prison reported clinically meaningful symptoms of mental illness, as did 38% of fathers in federal prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). In general, rates of mental illness among inmates are two to four times higher than among the general population (Lurigio, 2001).
The intergenerational influences of family involvement in prison are strong. Forty-nine percent of fathers in state prison reported that a member of their family (a parent, sibling, or spouse) had ever been incarcerated.
Nineteen percent of fathers in state prison had experienced paternal incarceration and 6% had experienced maternal incarceration (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).
The U.S. Bureau of Statistics revised special report Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children revealed:
More than 4 in 10 fathers in state or federal prisons were black.
Similar to men in the general prison population (93%), parents held in the nation’s prisons at midyear 2007 were mostly male (92%).
In state prison, drug recidivists (62%)—offenders with a prior drug offense—had a higher likelihood of being a parent than violent (52%) and other (54%) recidivists.
In 2000 the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) released information on Incarcerated fathers and their children that featured what policymakers should know and what they should do in order to reduce the recidivism rate among fathers. The advice stands true today.
The CGA asserts:
The majority of incarcerated men are fathers. The majority are nonviolent offenders who will return to society within a few years.
Strong family connections and employment are the two most critical elements that reduce the likelihood that fathers will return to prison once released.
These men possess low levels of literacy and lack marketable job skills, making it difficult for them to maintain employment once released.
Former inmates need services that support their return to communities in order to prevent recidivism and keep communities safe.
Some suggestions from the CGA to policy makers include:
Use prison programs to assist inmates with developing relationship, communication, conflict resolution and anger management skills that will help to manage relationships with families and their children.
Develop pre- and post-release support programs that assist men to obtain job skills and job referrals prior to their release; supplement these programs with support groups to help men keep jobs.
Offer training to social workers, teachers, community services groups, prison wardens and lawyers on the special issues facing these families.
Encourage prison facilities to make information available to inmates and families on community resources and services.
Develop policies that support educational and recreational activities and counseling for prisoners’ children.
When it comes to child support payments that incarcerated fathers are unable to pay thereby leading to a financial burden upon release and the possibility of resulting in a new charge for nonpayment the CSA suggested that policymakers:
Establish procedures that notify incarcerated fathers of their right to a modification.
Explain the modification process and procedure so that inmates or former inmates are aware of how to exercise their right to request a modification.
Apply an automatic modification for incarcerated fathers.
Cease the accumulation of interest while fathers are incarcerated.