Since 2011, Jose Cintron Jr., 38, has lived on the same Pennsylvania cell block as his father, who is 58. Their story is not unusual. All around them are inmates who come from the same neighborhoods, the same city blocks or even the same households. Father and son hail from one of the most heavily incarcerated communities in the U.S. Just as crime gravitates to certain neighborhoods, it also clusters in families: According to one criminologist’s analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 5 percent of families account for more than 50 percent of all arrests, Philly.com reports. Many studies have found that people whose parents have committed crimes are at least two times more likely to be perpetrators themselves. Sexual offending runs in families. So does violent crime.
Darryl Goodman, who was locked up with his father at Pennsylvania’s Graterford prison, is assembling a data set with help from inmates at the state’s 25 prisons. He says there are 243 fathers in state prisons with their sons. At Graterford alone, he counted 41 father-son pairs, including 17 sets of cellmates. He found seven families in which a father, son and grandson were locked up together. Cintron Jr. calls it the “generational curse.” Philadelphia leaders are working to cut the city jail roster by one-third in three years, while the state system has shed 3,000 inmates since the population peaked at 51,000+ inmates in 2009. Yet the curve has tracked upward for decades. Pennsylvania admitted 19,000 inmates in 2016; that figure remains double what it was 20 years ago, even as violent crime has declined. A major challenge to decarceration is that prison sentences remain longer than ever before. According to a 2012 Pew analysis, Pennsylvania’s inmates were the second-longest-serving in the nation. The average sentence is 30 percent longer than it was 20 years ago.