Just as poverty and low literacy become a cycle within a
family, so often does incarceration.
As noted by the Center for Community Alternatives, The
research on children of incarcerated parents indicates that the loss of a
has a profound effect on children and adolescents. For
adolescents, parental incarceration has been associated with poor academic
achievement, involvement in delinquency and gang-related activities, violence,
and eventually adult criminal behavior. One study estimated that children with
imprisoned parents are almost six times more likely than their counterparts to
become criminally involved and incarcerated at some point in their future . . .
Many of these children [who are separated from their parents by incarceration]
see no chance of having their lives follow paths which are any different than
those of their parents.(7)
When released, incarcerated individuals often return to
families that may not be supportive of change.
A strong support network is important for individuals in the
midst of transition. Children, parents, spouses, and other family members can
be powerful influences both positive and negative. On a positive note,
parents who have participated in family literacy programs report that their
children were their greatest motivation for achieving personal and family
goals. On the other hand, incarcera-tion, whether short- or long-term, can
erode a parents confidence in his or her own capabilities to parent
Others in the surrounding family and social systems may feel
and express the same kind of doubts. Even in infancy, children can sense this
doubt and might reject the parent as unreliable, unpredictable, unloving, and
uninvolved. When incarcerated parents feel isolated from or rejected by their
children, they may be more likely to act out in a jail setting, and may incur
more punishments. Those punishments, in turn, may result in extended sentences
that lengthen the period of physical loss and conflict.
Kids are mirrors of
me and what I say and do.
Participant in family literacy program