The need for services provided by GEM is great. 1.7 million children in this country have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. Approximately half of the children with incarcerated parents are under 10 years old. Related to this, is the increasing number of mothers who are incarcerated, which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports nearly 20,000 women are in state and federal prisons in Texas.
Disturbingly, studies show that minor children of incarcerated parents are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children. A recent report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation notes that parental incarceration creates severe challenges for children and families often resulting in issues such as (i) instability in family relationships and structure, (ii) school behavior and performance problems, (iii) guilt, shame, social, and institutional stigma, (iv) low self-esteem, anxiety, and aggression. Beyond these problems, evidence indicates that many of these children follow their parents into the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project concludes that children of incarcerated parents are three to six times more likely to go to prison than their peers.
The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, reports that 62% of parents in state prisons and 84% of parents in federal prisons are held more than 100 miles away from their last residence, making regular visitation – if any at all – virtually impossible. More than half of incarcerated women report never having had a visit from their children. In addition to lowering the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is strong evidence that maintaining contact with one’s incarcerated parent improves a child’s emotional response to the incarceration and supports parent-child attachment. Most caregivers are fully supportive of children having relationships with incarcerated parents; however, the cost of transportation and collect phone calls from the prisons can be expensive, putting a financial strain on the caregivers who already bear numerous burdens while caring for children with parents in prison, including not only increased financial strain, but also physical and emotional stress and lack of external resources.
At Girls Embracing Mothers, we are acutely aware of the needs of these girls in crisis and help empower them to lead successful lives with vision and purpose. Our programs offer the chance not only to break the cycle of incarceration but also to build the bond between mother and daughter.