NEW YORK — The price paid by inmates who are behind bars extends far beyond prison walls. A new report finds nearly half of all adult Americans have had a family member incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Research from FWD.us and Cornell University shows 113 million adults in the U.S., or 45 percent, have had an immediate family member incarcerated for at least one night, and minorities are disproportionately affected. One in seven adults have had a family member locked up for more than a year. The U.S. continues to incarcerate more people than any other country in the world — nearly 6.5 million adults have a family member currently in jail or prison.
"Look across our country, you'd see a trending pattern that lock up too many folks for non-violent offenses," said FWD.us advocate Carlton Miller. "We are sending folks back to jail for technical violations, on parole, on probation, and as a result, those individuals are sent back to prison and they're being sent to prison for longer sentences."
The report finds incarceration rates are far higher for minorities. Black Americans are 50 percent more likely than white Americans to have a family member who is incarcerated.
Nearly 54 percent of incarcerated parents were primary breadwinners for their families. The report defines "immediate family member" as a parent, child, sibling, partner or spouse.
"The emotional toll that it takes on families, the financial toll, it's devastating and it's causing families to lose much of their income," Miller said.
Fines and fees starting with bail can be the first of many expenses families face, including court fees, expenses to visit prison and the overall loss of income. But once someone leaves prison, financial hardships continue.
"The evidence shows that within 72 hours of an individual leaving prison, that is a critical period," Miller said. "They need to have an ability to find housing, secure a job, have a game plan so that when they get out, they can be able to take care of their children, be able to be the breadwinners for their families and often provide an opportunity to better their communities."
The toll for families extends beyond finances. The report also finds incarceration can lead to family separations, increased risk of health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as a lack of support for those struggling with substance abuse.