Resolution on Families of Incarcerated Offenders

WHEREAS in 2005, nearly 2.2 million Americans, or 1 in every 136 U.S. residents, were incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails (Harrison & Beck, 2006);

WHEREAS at the end of 2004, over 4.9 million adult men and women were under federal, state, or local probation or parole jurisdiction (Glaze & Palla, 2005);

WHEREAS, nearly 6 in 10 persons in local jails were ethnic or racial minorities (Harrison & Beck, 2006) and, at the end of 2004, 60% of state and federal prisoners were black or Hispanic (Harrison & Beck, 2005);

WHEREAS more than half (54%) of federal prisoners are serving time for a drug offense, but only 11% are incarcerated for a violent offense (The Sentencing Project, 2006);

WHEREAS changes in policies related to drug arrests contributed to an 888% increase between 1986 and 1995 in the number of women incarcerated for drug offenses ( Mauer, Potter, & Wolf, 1999) and a 114% increase from 1990 to 2001 in the number of women incarcerated overall (Lee, Genty, & Laver, 2005);

WHEREAS 64% of mothers in state prisons and 84% in federal prisons were living with their children at the time of their admission to prison; in contrast, only half of incarcerated fathers were living with their children at the time of their incarceration (44% for state and 55% for federal prison) (Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2002).

WHEREAS research suggests that offenders and their families face complex and often severe psychological, medical, educational, economic, social, and spiritual challenges (Lewis, Shanok, & Balla, 1979, Seymour, 1998);

WHEREAS on June 30, 2005, the majority of all jail and prison inmates had a mental health problem and female inmates had higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (James & Glaze, 2006; Abram, Teplin, & McClelland, 2003; Lamb & Weinberger, 1998);

WHEREAS the high rate of incarceration in the U.S. has been devastating socially and economically to children, their families, and communities ( Family Strengthening Policy Center, 2005);

WHEREAS more than 2 million children had a parent behind bars in 2004, and approximately 10 million, or 1 in 8 of America’s children had experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives (Bernstein, 2004);

WHEREAS when parents are incarcerated, the caregiving arrangements for children frequently are disrupted, and mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and foster parents must often raise children without much financial or social support (Travis, 2005);

WHEREAS when a father is incarcerated, children and their mothers may suffer economically from the loss of financial support (Travis, McBride, & Solomon, 2005);

WHEREAS when a mother is incarcerated, children are most likely to live with their grandparents (Travis, McBride, & Solomon, 2005);

WHEREAS research has shown that grandparents caring for their grandchildren often experience mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and low life satisfaction (Gerard, Landry-Meyer, & Roe (2006);

WHEREAS children with an incarcerated mother or father are at very high risk for a variety of emotional and behavioral problems because of the stress of separation from their parent, stigma associated with having an imprisoned parent, loss of emotional support, fear for their parent’s safety, and uncertainty or confusion about what has happened to their parent (Seymour, 1998);

WHEREAS it has been estimated that as much as 70% of young children (ages 2 to 6 years old) with a mother incarcerated have displayed symptoms that research suggests are associated with insecure attachments, including internalizing problems such as anxiety, withdrawal, hypervigilance, depression, shame and guilt, and externalizing behaviors such as anger, aggression, and hostility toward caregivers and siblings (Baunach, 1985; Johnson, 1995; Parke & Clarke-Steward, 2003);

WHEREAS children with incarcerated parents are six times more likely than their peers to become criminally involved and incarcerated during their lives (Bilchik, Seymour, & Kreisher, 2001);

WHEREAS families of inmates typically receive few services, and they often lack even basic support and information as they deal with the offender’s prosecution, punishment, and reentry (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001);

WHEREAS some families of inmates have been doubly victimized – by the offender himself or herself and unintentionally by the system that fails to provide them with adequate support (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001);

WHEREAS research indicates that policies and practices, including prison visitation policies, often make maintenance of relationships difficult when a family member is incarcerated, and that the lack of support to families of offenders can weaken family ties and make family reunification even more difficult when the offender is released (Travis, 2005);

WHEREAS nearly 95% of offenders in state prisons will eventually be released (Hughes & Wilson, 2004) without support, most will face multiple barriers to successful reintegration, including difficulty in accessing health, mental health, and drug and alcohol treatment services (Travis, 2005);

WHEREAS federal initiatives to facilitate offender reentry are underemphasizing the needs and contributions of family members despite research that documents the importance of the family in the reentry process (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001);

WHEREAS all of these issues apply as well to families of juveniles in the juvenile and criminal justice systems (some of whom are parents themselves) and the juveniles themselves;

WHEREAS psychologists can and should contribute significantly to advancing the state of knowledge regarding families of offenders, including their children; and

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association is committed to promoting the health and well-being of children, youth, and families,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association urges:

(a) the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Institute of Corrections to support research (i) to illuminate the experiences of children of offenders and their families, (ii) to identify the needs, resilience, and protective factors that reduce the involvement of offenders and their children in drugs or criminal activity and (iii) to develop and evaluate models of emotional, social, and economic support for such families;

(b) the Center for Mental Health Services, state mental health agencies, and community mental health centers to place a high priority on the development of services for families of defendants and offenders that not only address the families’ needs but that also mobilize resilience and protective factors in prevention programs;

(c) state and federal courts to strive to ensure that services are available for (i) education of families of defendants about the legal process and (ii) minimization of psychological, social, and economic harm to innocent family members;

    * social service and health agencies to provide appropriate educational, physical, and mental health services for children of incarcerated parents and their family members,

    * the U.S. Department of Education and state educational agencies to develop training and other services to strengthen the ability of teachers, counselors, and other school professionals to identify and support children with incarcerated parents and their families;

(f) the relevant federal agencies to develop training programs, including internships, postdoctoral, and continuing education, to increase mental health and social service professionals’ capacity to work effectively with families of offenders;

(g) psychologists and other mental health professionals working in the juvenile and criminal justice system to strive to ensure that attention is given to the needs and potential contributions of offender’s family members;

(h) psychologists and other mental health and social services professionals to provide services to incarcerated parents to strengthen their parenting and employment skills and to assist them as they leave prison and reenter their families and communities.


Abram, K.M., Teplin, L.A., & McClelland, G.M. (2003). Comorbidity of severe psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders among women in jail. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160,1007-1010.

Baunach, P.J. (1985). Mothers in prison. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Bernstein, N. (2004, September/October). A bill of rights for children of prisoners. Children’s Voice. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Bilchik, S., Seymour, C., & Kreisher, K. (2001, December). Parents in prison. Corrections Today, 63, 108-112.

Family Strengthening Policy Center (2005, September). Supporting families with incarcerated parents. Policy Brief No. 8. Washington, DC: National Human Services Assembly.

Gerard, J.M., Landry-Meyer, L., & Roe, J.G. (2006). Grandparents raising grandchildren: The role of social support in coping with caregiving challenges. Int’l J. Aging and Human Development 62(4), 359-383.

Glaze, L.E. & Palla, S., (2005, November). Probation and parole in the United States, 2004. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (NCJ210676). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Harrison , P.M., & Beck, A.J. (2005, October). Prisoners in 2004. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (NCJ 210677). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Harrison , P.M., & Beck, A.J., (2006, May). Prison and jail inmates at midyear 2005. Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (NCJ 213133). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Hughes, T., & Wilson, D.J. (2004, April). Reentry trends in the United States. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics (Retrieved October 1, 2006, from

James, D.J., & Glaze, L.E. (2006, September). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (NCJ 213600). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Johnston, D. (1995). Effects of parental incarceration. In K. Gabel & D. Johnston (Eds.), Children of incarcerated parents. New York: Lexington Books.

Lamb, H.R., & Weinberger, L.E. (1998). Persons with severe mental illness in jails and prisons: A review. Psychiatric Services 49: 483-492.

Lee, A.F., Genty, P.M., & Laver, M. (2005). The impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act on children of incarcerated parents. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Lewis, D. O., Shanok, S.S., & Balla, D. A. (1979). Parental criminality and medical histories of delinquent children. American Journal of Psychiatry, 136, 288-292.

Mauer, M., Potler, C., & Wolf, R. (1999). Gender and justice: Women , drugs and sentencing policy. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project.

Parke, R., & Clarke-Stewart, K.A. (2003). Effects of parental incarceration on children. In J. Travis & M. Waul (Eds.), Prisoners once removed, The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

The Sentencing Project (2006). New incarceration figures: Thirty-three consecutive years of growth. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. Retrieved on September 9, 2006, from

Seymour, C. (1998). Children with parents in prison: Child welfare policy, program, and practice issues. Child Welfare, 77, 469-493.

Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoners reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Travis, J., McBride, E.C., & Solomon, A.L. (2005). Families left behind: The hidden costs of incarceration and reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Travis, J., Solomon, A., & Waul, M. (2001, June). From prison to home: The dimensions and consequences of prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Families are defined broadly to include diverse family structures, including grandparents raising grandchildren and same-gender couples and their children .