Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers

The number of fathers in U.S. jails and prisons has increased four-fold since 1980. Among the more than 800,000 parents in federal and state prisons, 92 percent are fathers. Each year, hundreds of thousands of prisoners are released from state and federal facilities, and many more are cycled through local jail facilities. Ninety percent of all inmates will be released and 70 percent are likely to come back to the community where they were arrested.

Prisoners who participate in employment, education, or substance abuse treatment programs are more likely to obtain employment and less likely to return to prison. Although family strengthening programs (such as parenting skills classes), are received by only an estimated 11 percent of fathers in state prisons), studies indicate these programs improve attitudes about the importance of fatherhood, increase parenting skills, and lead to more frequent contact between fathers and their children. Research also shows that relationship education can improve communication skills and that people who maintain family ties during incarceration fare better when released.

Tips & Best Practices

  • Connecting reentering fathers with support from family and friends is key for avoiding recidivism (returning to prison) and helping them re-establish their lives. The 2012 study Families and Reentry: Unpacking How Social Support Matters explores challenges and opportunities in engaging a returning citizen’s family and social network upon release.
  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit that reduces the tax liability of private‐for‐profit employers that hire ex-felons. Learn more about the WOTC and check out the other Reentry MythBusters fact sheets from the Federal Interagency Reentry Council.
  • The National Institute of Corrections offers resources, promising practices, and spotlights on successful reentry initiatives.  The Community Services Division coordinates technical assistance, specialized training, and other programs related to probation, parole, and other forms of community-based corrections. The Division also develops publications and materials on topics of interest to community corrections practitioners.


How many minor children in the United States have a parent who is incarcerated?

Over 1.7 million children have a parent in prison, accounting for 2.3% of the U.S. resident population under age 18. Fifty-two percent (52%) of state inmates and 63% of federal inmates reported having minor children.

Are there racial disparities in family incarceration?

Study after study has shown that black and Latino people are disproportionately sent to jail and prison, and the harmful effects of mass incarceration are concentrated in low-income communities of color.

How does having a parent who is incarcerated impact children?

Previous research has found connections between parental incarceration and childhood health problems, behavior problems, and grade retention.

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