Incarceration and the Family: A Review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families. 2.1 Prevalence and Sociodemographics


Accurate understanding of the characteristics of fathers involved in the criminal justice system will improve service system planning and delivery. In this chapter we describe the sociodemographic, parenting, sentencing, and health characteristics of incarcerated fathers.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2007 an estimated 744,200 state and federal prisoners in the United States were fathers to 1,599,200 children under the age of 18 (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). An unpublished estimate from Mumola suggests that 7,476,500 children have a parent (mother or father) who is in prison, in jail or under correctional supervision (2006). Few studies have attempted to describe the characteristics of incarcerated fathers and the children they parent. “Parents in Prison and their Minor Children,” a special report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is the most complete resource available to date for such information. The report (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008) is based on findings from the Surveys of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities conducted in 2004, and on National Prisoners Statistics program custody counts. The Surveys of Inmates involved quantitative data collection with a representative sample of 18,185 persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons. Below we provide some descriptive information about parents in prison, based primarily on this work and its antecedent (Mumola, 2000).

There are approximately 7.4 million children who have a parent in prison, in jail, or under correctional supervision.

  • Of the total number of parents in federal prison, 36% were married and 25% were divorced or separated. Among state prisoners, 23% of parents were married and 28% were divorced or separated (Mumola, 2000).
  • Of the state and federal prisoners who had minor children in 2004, 92% were men (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).
  • Over half of incarcerated fathers (54%) reported that they were the primary source of financial support for their children prior to their incarceration (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008). 
  • In 1997, most incarcerated fathers reported incomes below the poverty line prior to incarceration, with 53% earning less than $12,000 in the year before their arrest (Mumola, 2000).
  • Among male inmates in state prison, 71% of those who were married were parents to minor children, compared to 44% of those who were never married, 55% of those who were divorced, and 64% of those who were legally separated. Among federal inmates, 77% of married men had minor children, compared to 58% of never-married men, 59% of divorced men, and 69% of men who were separated (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).
  • In a sample of inmates returning to Cleveland, Ohio, after incarceration, Visher and Courtney (2007) found that 46% had lived with a spouse or intimate partner prior to incarceration.
  • The median age of incarcerated parents was 32 among those in state facilities and 35 among those in federal facilities in 1997 (Mumola, 2000).
  • In 2007, a disproportionate number of fathers incarcerated in state prison were African American (42%) or Latino (20%). African American (49%) and Latino (28%) men made up a disproportionate share of fathers in federal prison as well (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).

The percent of male inmates who were fathers, by age group, is shown in Exhibit 2-1.

Exhibit 2-1. Percent Fathers by Age

Exhibit 2-1. Percent Fathers by Age. See text for explanation of chart.

Source:  Glaze & Maruschak. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children.
Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 1.96Mb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®