By the age of 14, about 25 percent of African-American children have experienced a parent — in most cases a father — being imprisoned for some period of time. On any given school day, about 10 percent of African-American schoolchildren have a parent who is in jail or prison, more than four times the share in 1980. The comparable share for white children is 4 percent; an African-American child is six times as likely as a white child to have or have had an incarcerated parent, reports the Washington Post. A growing share of African Americans have been arrested for drug crimes, yet African Americans are no more likely than whites to sell or use drugs. Of imprisoned fathers of African-American children, only one-third are in prison because of a violent crime.
Research demonstrates that when parents are incarcerated, children do worse across cognitive and noncognitive outcome measures, and the incarceration issues are a key cause. For example, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school; develop learning disabilities; misbehave in school; suffer from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness. These are findings from a new report released by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute that says the “evidence is overwhelming that the unjustified incarceration of African-American fathers (and, increasingly, mothers as well) is an important cause of the lowered performance of their children” and of the racial achievement gap.