Nearly half of the 2 million inmates in state prisons say they have relatives who also have been incarcerated, says a 2004 Justice Department survey cited by USA Today. Experts say the influence of family members may be one of the most important and largely unaddressed factors in determining whether people adopt lives of crime. “The numbers are amazing,” says Oregon psychologist Mark Eddy of the Oregon Social Learning Center, who is tracking 400 inmates and their deep familial ties to that state’s criminal justice system. “This is a big issue,” Eddy says, “one we need to get a handle on as a society.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says an estimated 2 million children with one or both parents incarcerated face the greatest risk of perpetuating the cycle of crime across generations. The department will try to link 3,000 of those children with “mentors” to assist with counseling and other social needs, says Curtis Porter of the HHS Family and Youth Services Bureau. “There is a replication and a recycling of crime across generations,” University of Maryland criminologist John Laub says. “It’s a huge problem.” On California’s death row, there are six sets of brothers among the 667 condemned prisoners awaiting death by lethal injection. In Texas, which has executed six sets of siblings, there are two sets of cousins on death row.