Crow Wing Energized

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Incarcerated Parents

kathryn-pietzBy Kathryn Pietz has been an active volunteer with organizations serving youth and currently serves as the executive director for the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project (LARJP). She is certified in Youth Intervention.


Did you know having a family member in jail is an Adverse Childhood Experience and could result in life-long problems for the child?


Fact: “Children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to land in prison themselves! Sadly, teens with an incarcerated parent are three times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school and engage in delinquent behavior. An overwhelming majority of kids who have an incarcerated parent use drugs daily to cope.” (


Here is a personal story from a Crow Wing County Jail inmate:

“When I was about six or seven years old, I had my dad in my life. He was always there until my parents started using drugs, and to me, they stopped caring about us kids. He spent the next ten years in and out of jails and prison. I felt like I had lost both parents. My Mom was an addict and was never sober. My dad was nowhere.”


“That’s when I started acting up in school, always mad, sad or just hateful to anyone and everyone. At the age of ten, I started stealing cigarettes and liquor from my mother. I remember once my grandmother tried to come get me to visit my dad in jail, but my mom wouldn’t let me go. I cried and cried. Then I started sneaking letters to him. That was nice. By the time I was a teenager I was using liquor, crack and meth. It seems like my life has been in the shadows right behind my dad. Now my parents are sober, but I’m still in and out of county jails.”


Fact: The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world. In Minnesota, one in six children have a parent incarcerated in jails or prison, or under the supervision of probation or parole.


Men make up 90 percent of the prison and local jail population. These men are overwhelmingly young and fathers in their 20s and early 30s. Prisoners also tend to be less educated: The average state prisoner has a 10th grade education, and about 70 percent have not completed high school.


Another view on incarceration comes from a Stillwater state prison inmate.

“There is a social stigma associated with having a family member incarcerated. A parent missing from the home due to incarceration leads a child to experience embarrassment, shame, ridicule, and sense of abandonment. “


“Incarceration systems operate in ways which add to these problems and promote the deterioration of the parent/child relationship. Because security is primary, facilities of incarceration view the easiest means of securing the facility is by restricting offender contact. Any form of contact, especially physical, is seen as a “security threat”. Visits, phone calls and mail are severely limited and highly scrutinized.” This extreme level of separation doesn’t allow for the most basic functions necessary in a parent/child relationship. The smallest interaction, such as helping with homework or talking through difficulties in the home or school, becomes an almost impossible task. Another harmful effect on children of incarcerated parents is the financial strain of having a parent in prison. With the average prison wage at $0.25 an hour, it limits the way a prisoner can financially contribute to their family’s needs. The burden lands solely on the remaining parent, usually resulting in the family living in poverty. Living in poverty has a negative effect on children.

The disconnection and burden felt by the children and remaining parent inevitably leads to forms of resentment and even hatred. In addition, the remaining parent, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, may decide to start a new relationship, changing the dynamics of the home.

All of these factors lead to a child being confused and feeling unloved.


Building Resilience

Help children with incarcerated parents deal with grief by validating and honoring their experiences and feelings.

Reduce the stigma of incarceration by supporting the development of children’s self-esteem, trust in others and hope for a better future.

Children with incarcerated family members need factual information. Get a copy of How to Explain Jails and Prisons to Children, published by the Initiative Foundation, available in the reception area of the Crow Wing County Jail.