Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Why we do this

By Val Hymes

Children with parents in prison are the smallest victims of crime. They are hidden, invisible to their neighbors and us, and are often not documented. In many states, no government entity is responsible for them. They are:

• Five to six times more likely than their peers to be incarcerated themselves.
• More likely to abuse substances and engage in antisocial behaviors.
• Likely to drop out of school, run away, and become homeless.
• Suffer from a negative self-image, fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, and sadness.
• High levels of truancy, physical aggression, and disruptive behavior.
• Traumatized by separation, stigmatized by shame of having a parent in prison.

The Statistics

• Children: Between 1.5 and 1.7 million children in this country have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. Nearly 10 million children have a parent under the criminal justice system.
• Minorities: There is a disparate impact on families of color, with African-American children  nine times more likely to have a parent in prison.
• Women: Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57% compared to 34 percent for men. 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers.
• Parents: 63% of federal prisoners. 55% of state prisoners have children under 18.
• Ages: The average age of children with one or both parents incarcerated is 8. Twenty-two percent of the children are under the age of 5.

The Impact

An unconfirmed U. S. Senate report estimated that 70% of the children of prisoners will someday be incarcerated. That number has been challenged, but the impact on families with an incarcerated mother has been greater than those with a father in prison. Problems with the police begin to show up in early ages as they develop problems in school and join gangs.

The Answers

Those who minister to these children believe that an intervening week of camp where they can begin to see a different life of fun, friendship and unconditional love can make a huge difference in the choices the children make.

The Challenges

To find funds and staff to also minister year round to the 8-12-year-olds and  more to those 12-16  (besides scholarships to Claggett camps.)

Information mainly based on statistics in 2007 are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice, a U.S. Senate Report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Sentencing Project.