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Project Appleseed

Beyond Bars: Supporting Incarcerated Parents and their Children's


Parenting from Prison

According to a 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 1.5 million children aged 17 or younger had a parent in state or federal prison in that year. This highlights the importance of parent engagement for children with incarcerated parents. Not only does it help maintain the parent-child relationship, but it can also have positive impacts on a child's academic and social-emotional development, as well as the parent's ability to successfully reintegrate into their community upon release.


However, engaging incarcerated parents in their child's education can be challenging due to the physical barriers of being in prison. Project Appleseed has different strategies and programs that can help facilitate this engagement, such as the Family Engagement Toolbox, family engagement events, regular communication, parenting classes, and education and literacy programs.

The 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, a periodic, cross-sectional survey of the state and sentenced federal prison populations, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found:


  • 684,500 state and federal prisoners were parents of at least one minor child.

  • 47% of male prisoners and 58% of female prisoners were parents with minor children.


The survey collected data from face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners aged 18 or older. The statistics show that:


  • Nearly 1.5 million persons aged 17 or younger had a parent in state or federal prison in 2016

  • Parents in state or federal prison had an average of two minor children each.

  • Nearly 3 in 5 females and males in federal prison were parents with minor children

  • An estimated 19% of minor children with a parent in state prison and 13% with a parent in federal prison were age 4 or younger.

Incarcerated parents need to be involved with their children for a number of reasons:


First, it helps to maintain the parent-child relationship, which can be a crucial source of support for both the parent and the child. This can be especially important for children who may feel isolated or abandoned due to their parent's incarceration.

Second, parental involvement in a child's education can have a positive impact on the child's academic and social-emotional development. Children with involved parents are more likely to have better grades, attend school more regularly, and have a more positive attitude towards education. This can help to set them up for success in the long term.

Third, parental involvement can also have benefits for the parent themselves. Incarcerated parents who are able to maintain a connection with their child may experience less stress and isolation and may be more likely to successfully reintegrate into their community upon release.

Lastly, parental involvement can also help to promote a sense of responsibility and accountability for the parent. By being actively involved in their child's education, they are taking responsibility for their actions and working towards a better future for themselves and their child.


Engaging incarcerated parents in their child's education can be challenging due to the physical barriers of being in prison, but there are several strategies that can be used to help facilitate this engagement:


  • Family Engagement Toolbox: Correctional Institutions and schools can use the Family Engagement Toolbox to access  the Parent Engagement Pledge. Incarcerated parents can take the Parent Engagement Pledge, which is a commitment to being involved in their child's education. They can sign the pledge showing their commitment to being an active and engaged parent.


  • Family engagement events: Incarcerated parents can participate in family engagement events such as parent-teacher conferences or school events. These events can be held at the prison or jail, or the parent can participate via video conferencing.

  • Communication: Regular communication is key to maintaining a relationship between an incarcerated parent and their child.

    • Prisoners can use the Internet to stay connected with their child's school. Many schools have online portals where parents can check their child's grades, homework assignments, and class schedules. 

    • Prisoners can virtually attend parent-teacher conferences and school board meetings, and other educational events. 

    • This can include phone calls, video chats, email, and mail. The prison or jail may have restrictions on communication, so it is important to understand the rules and guidelines.

  • Parenting classes: Incarcerated parents can take parenting classes that focus on child development, discipline, and communication. These classes can help them understand the importance of their role in their child's life and how to maintain a connection with their child despite the physical distance.

  • Education and literacy programs: Incarcerated parents can participate in education and literacy programs such as GED or adult basic education classes. These programs can help them improve their own education and provide them with tools to help their child with homework and schoolwork.

Here are some resources for students with incarcerated parents:

  1. National Center for Homeless Education, "Children of Incarcerated Parents (COIP) | Incarceration":

  2. Child Welfare Information Gateway, "Supporting Children and Families Affected by Parental Incarceration":

  3. National Institutes of Correction, "Where can I find programs for incarcerated parents or their families?"

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