Incarcerated parents: The Impact on First Generati...

Incarcerated parents: The Impact on First Generation Students

“Crime and high rates of incarceration impose tremendous costs on society, with lasting negative effects on individuals, families, and communities,” Kearney and Harrison report. According to a recent study, approximately 5 million children lived with a parent that went to jail or prison. In addition, the age group of 12-17 year olds make up 8% of children whose parents were incarcerated. What’s even more astounding is that this 8% increases to 13.6% in black children. These statistics provide evidence that there is more to be done on the issue of advocating for children with an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parent.

Challenges adolescents face

A Minnesota survey in 2013, found that there were higher rates of mental health problems in adolescents with incarcerated parents. Some mental health problems these adolescents experienced include: internalizing, self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicidal attempts. Different areas of lives affected in youth by incarcerated parents include: mental health problems, relationships and most importantly, education.

Is higher education an option?

The crude reality is that higher education is not an option for some minority students with incarcerated parents. Often there is little or no support in the home, lack of resources, and lack of information. There is also scarce information about how adolescents are impacted by a parent’s incarceration, aside from the typical “behavioral problems, dropping out, and risk taking behavior.”

Adolescents with incarcerated parents want to be understood. In order to build and foster relationships with children of incarcerated parents, caregivers and relevant adult figures in their life must:

  • know their own biases on incarceration
  • must be willing to listen with empathy and no judgement
  • must be understanding and compassionate while being able to offer advice and information
  • Share information about how the parents’ circumstances may be affecting the child, all with no judgement.

Because there is still a stigmatization among children with an incarcerated parent, more research is warranted to better understand the dynamics children face in light of these unique situations.

Let’s backtrack

Although college isn’t for everyone, when the time comes to apply, students need to know what resources are available, should they need them. One university that provides these resources is  Rutgers University’s website. This university has done a phenomenal job at dissecting the issue of children with incarcerated parents by offering fact sheets, articles, resources, and open scholarships for students with incarcerated parents. Some scholarships mentioned on their website include, “Children impacted by crime scholarships”, “ScholarCHIPS”, “Ava’s Grace Scholarship”, among the more popular scholarships such as “Gates Millennium Scholars and Google scholarships.

As a nation with a mass incarceration problem, leaders should be looking towards a solution instead of a school-to-prison pipeline, which is currently occurring. There is hope, but definite change has to occur. We, as future leaders should dedicate more time towards student resources through guidance counseling, therapeutic sources when needed, and deeper understanding of adverse life experiences and their effects on children.


About Lesly Guzman

Current college student at NEIU in Chicago, Illinois, future psychologist that serves the world. Self proclaimed Xicana and also feminist (an oh so controversial topic in today's world). I am majoring in psychology with a minor in child advocacy studies and plan to work with minority adolescents and children. Topics of importance to me range from inner city violence (present in Chicago), the importance of funding education (or lack of in my institution's case), to issues of identity, what it means to be a first generation college student, religion and culture, along with the utter most important topic of mental health. I challenge myself in my learning, in my views, and hope I may do the same in a positive manner for those I reach. I plan to help change the world one day, even if it takes a lifetime.