WASHINGTON — Herbert Rashad Scott, whose parents were in and out of prison throughout his childhood, vowed to break his family’s cycle of self-destruction.
The circumstances were not promising. Mr. Scott, 20, was awaiting sentencing for drug possession and robbery, but he was allowed supervised release from jail in May to attend a job preparation class — a chance to turn his life around. As he spoke, he wriggled his neck, trying to get used to the necktie required, and he tried to ignore the tracking device on his ankle.
“I had low self-esteem and depression,” Mr. Scott said of his teenage years. Now, his ex-girlfriend was pregnant, and he pondered his child’s prospects.
“I want to be there for this child, and I want the child to know that jail ain’t no place to be,” he said.
The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school — all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood.
“Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the “incarceration generation.”Incarceration rates in the United States have multiplied over the last three decades, in part because of stiffer sentencing rules. At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison, according to federal data. But many more are affected over the course of childhood, especially if they are black, new studies show.