Nearly one in two American adults has seen an immediate family go to jail or prison at least one night, according to a new study from Cornell University.
One in seven adults has had an immediate family member behind bars for at least a year; for one in 34 adults it’s a decade or longer.
The study estimates that 6.5 million adults, 1 in 38, currently have an immediate family member incarcerated.
Among black and Native American adults the numbers are higher: 63 percent have had a family member in jail or prison for a night or more, compared to 48 percent of Latino and 42 percent of white adults. More than half of black adults with a college degree have seen a family member locked up, compared to less than a third of college-educated white adults. Three times as many black adults as white adults have seen a close relative imprisoned for a year or more – 31 percent compared to 10 percent.
Low-income Americans are also more likely to see their relatives jailed: more than half of adults making $25,000 per year or less have, compared to a third of those making $100,000 a year or more. Looking just at people with relatives locked up for a year or more, it’s about a quarter of the lowest income and 8 percent of the highest-income Americans.
People living in the Northeast are least likely to see an immediate relative go to jail or prison, according to the study – fewer than a third have.
Only one in four survey respondents said they were able to visit the incarcerated relative, although that result includes cases of only a night in jail. Still, less than half of the people surveyed who had a family member locked up for over a year said they had been able to visit.
The survey was designed by Cornell researchers for FWD.us, a nonprofit launched in 2013 by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to advocate for looser immigration laws. The tech industry lobbying group has since broadened its goals to include criminal justice reform.
“This research corroborates what too many families have known for too long: Our current criminal justice system is harming our economy, communities, and families and undermining the promise of what America can and should be,” Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, said. He previously worked for a super PAC to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.