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  • Prison inmates wearing firefighting boots at Oak Glen Conservation Fire Camp Yucaipa, California November 6, 2014.

    Prison inmates wearing firefighting boots at Oak Glen Conservation Fire Camp Yucaipa, California November 6, 2014. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 December 2018

Authors of a new study say the US has an 'incarceration epidemic' where 6.5 million adults has an immediate family member in jail.

A new study finds that about 50 percent of all adults in the United States has had an immediate family member incarcerated for at least one night, that’s 113 million people, and 30 percent for at least a year.

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The joint study conducted by Cornell University and the FWD.us think tank estimates that 6.5 million adults, or one in 38 people, currently has an immediate family member in jail.

The numbers grow among Black and Native Americans—63 percent of these minorities have had a family member in jail for a night, while 48 percent of Latinos, and 42 percent of white adults.

Black people are 50 percent more likely than whites to have a family member formerly or currently in prison, says the report’s introduction.

“The massive increase in jail and prison populations in the United States over the past 40 years means that more and more families have been touched by incarceration,” say the authors.

A person’s class also plays a major role in who spends time in jail. Over half of all adults making $25,000 a year or less have had a close relative in jail, compared to a third of those making more than US$100,000 per year. While 25 percent of the country’s lowest income-makers have had relatives locked up for a year or more, and only eight percent of the highest-income residents have experienced a family member’s incarceration.

Currently, there are more than two million people in a U.S. prison, affecting their 6.5 million immediate family members find the study published Dec. 6.

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The study authors say that 54 percent of incarcerated parents "were the primary breadwinners in their families. ... The loss of a family’s primary income source is highly destabilizing and can push families into financial disaster."

The authors, who include FWD director Felicity Rose, say: “Having a loved one spend even a single night in jail can be destabilizing and deeply traumatic for family members and this harm can be magnified the longer a person is incarcerated.”

The majority of family members were blocked from being able to visit their relatives while they served time.

"These numbers are stunning, all the more so if you think of them not as numbers but as stories like mine," Rose said.

"One of the worst parts of growing up with a father in and out of prison was the isolation and shame I felt," the director added.

FWD.us, launched in 2013 by Mark Zuckerberg and a dozen other tech founders, says it “is a bipartisan team of political campaigners spanning the fields of policy, advocacy, and technology working to create a stronger America.”

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. has the world's highest incarceration rate.


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