7 percent of U.S. kids have had a parent in jail

Nonviolent drug offenders could be eligible for shorter prison sentences under legislation approved by a Senate panel Thursday, as Congress took initial steps to change the nation's criminal justice system. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

1 in 14 U.S. children have had a parent in jail. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

More than 5 million children in the U.S. have had a parent in jail. That’s roughly 7 percent of the nation’s kids 17 and under, or one out of every 14 children.

Findings from Child Trends — a nonprofit based in Maryland — explores “the prevalence of parental incarceration and child outcomes associated with it.” Data from 2011-2012 showed that children in poverty were three times more likely to experience a parent in incarceration, and the percentage rate among black children was twice as high as that of white children.

Child Trends found that of those children who had a parent in jail:

  • More than 50 percent had lived with someone with a substance abuse problem.
  • Roughly three in five had encountered parental divorce or separation.
  • More than one-third had seen violence between parents or guardians.
  • More than one in four had lived with a mentally ill or suicidal individual.
  • Nearly one in 10 experienced the death of a parent.

The data may very well be an “underestimate,” Child Trends reports, as it does not include children with a non-residential incarcerated parent.

2.2 million people are behind bars. Learn more via PBS NewsHour’s “Broken Justice.”