Every Second: The Impact of Incarceration on America’s Families


63 percent of respondents said family members were primarily responsible for covering conviction-related costs.

Mass incarceration impacts not only incarcerated people but their families and communities. Approximately 113 million people have had an immediate family member incarcerated for at least one night, and 6.5 million have an immediate family member who is currently incarcerated. Families are traumatized by the loss of household income, weakened family bonds, poor physical and mental health, and other adverse outcomes that result from having a loved one behind bars. One specific financial consequence families face is criminal justice fines and fees that drain family income and create another obstacle to successful reentry. Researchers from surveyed over 4,000 adults to estimate the prevalence of family incarceration. This report shares those results and discusses the impact of incarceration on families. 

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Key Findings:

  • Black adults are 50 percent more likely than white adults to have an immediate family member incarcerated, and Latino adults are 70 percent more likely than white adults.
  • 48 percent of women have an immediate family member incarcerated compared to 42 percent of men.
  • 35 percent of women lost their household’s primary source of income due to a loved one’s incarceration.
  • Some states charge visitors of incarcerated family members background check fees.
Brian Elderbroom, Laura Bennett, Shanna Gong, Felicity Rose, and Zoë Towns