With roughly 1.5 million people held in state and federal prisons and almost 11 million admissions to local jails each year, the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. The devastating consequences of mass incarceration reverberates in families and communities across the country. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S., 113 million people, have a family member currently or formerly incarcerated, says a new report released yesterday (December 6) by FWD.us and Cornell University.

The study, “Every Second: The Impact of the Incarceration Crisis on America’s Families,” reveals that incarceration, even for short periods, weakens family bonds, financial stability, school outcomes, and physical and mental health. Families of color are disproportionately impacted more than White families: 63 percent of Native American adults have had at least one family member spend at least one night in prison or jail, along with 63 percent of Black adults and 48 percent of Latinx adults.

Some key findings pulled from the study:

  • Black adults are 50 percent more likely than White adults to have had an immediate family member incarcerated.

     

  • Black adults are three times more likely than White adults to have had an immediate family member incarcerated for longer than one year.

     

  • Latino adults are 70 percent more likely than White adults to have had an immediate family member incarcerated for longer than one year.

     

  • Adults with household incomes less than $25,000 per year are 61 percent more likely than adults with household incomes more than $100,000 to have had a family member incarcerated, and three times more likely to have had a family member incarcerated for one year or longer.

     

  • Incarceration inflicts a large burden on women and children: 48 percent of women have had an immediate family incarcerated compared to 42 percent of men.

     

  • Young adults age 18-29 are more likely than other respondents to have had a parent incarcerated.

Colorlines screenshot from FWD.us and Cornell University's report, "Every Second The Impact of the Incarceration Crisis on America’s Families"

Colorlines screenshot from FWD.us and Cornell University's report, "Every Second The Impact of the Incarceration Crisis on America’s Families"

Mass incarceration has ruinous consequences for the 113 million people in the U.S. whose family members have spent time in prisons or jails. The direct costs of exorbitant bail, legal and court fees, and the high cost of visitation and phone calls, creates a huge financial burden on families and weakens family bonds. “The time the incarceration crisis takes from America’s families can’t be replaced,” the report states. “Whether it’s one night or a lifetime, a missed holiday meal or a missed childhood, every family impacted by over-incarceration feels its negative effects.”

The trauma of incarceration can also lead to harmful mental and physical health outcomes. Per the report, having an incarcerated family member increases the risk of depression, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, especially for mothers with incarcerated sons and children of incarcerated parents.

The report concludes by calling on support for organizers and advocates who are fighting against mass incarceration at all levels of government:

The results of this groundbreaking new research should serve as a wake-up call and a stark reminder of how much work is needed to alleviate the harms caused by mass incarceration and unravel the complicated tangle of laws that perpetuate it. While many states and local governments have begun to reduce the number of people in prison or jail, we have a long way to go before our policies match our aspirations when it comes to supporting families.

Read the full report here