In the landscape of American society, the impact of incarceration on families reverberates deeply, yet often remains overlooked.

Startling statistics reveal that, currently, an estimated 6.5 million adults have an immediate family member incarcerated, underscoring the prevalence of this issue.1 To further put it in perspective, one in seven people have had an immediate family member spend one year or longer in prison, while one in 34 people have experienced the anguish of having a loved one incarcerated for a decade or more.2

The Impact on Families

The toll on families affected by incarceration reverberates through multiple facets of life. Families grapple with the emotional weight of separation, navigate legal hurdles, and bear exorbitant communication expenses to maintain regular contact with their loved ones.

Whether families choose to disclose their loved one’s incarceration or keep it private – a decision at their own discretion – the burden of stigma and fear can feel daunting and isolating. This fear, coupled with the absence of others close to them who have faced similar situations, can lead families to feel hesitant to discuss their circumstances with others.

Their Need for Support and Solidarity

In the face of these challenges, there exists a critical need for support and solidarity. Attorneys working with clients within the carceral system have a unique opportunity to help families access crucial community resources, including support groups.

These support groups serve as lifelines, fostering connections among individuals facing similar circumstances, providing a platform for shared experiences and coping strategies, and offering practical guidance on navigating the complexities of incarceration.

Additionally, they play a pivotal role in combating stigma, fostering the emergence of positive identities, and empowering families to advocate for their incarcerated loved ones and themselves.

Several organizations exemplify this commitment, providing tailored support to families impacted by incarceration. For instance, initiatives like the Prison Families Alliance , DC Project Connect, and the NAMI Family Support Group3 are organizations that deliver vital resources and assistance to those in need.

How You Can Connect Families with Resources

As attorneys, we are situated at the crossroads of legal representation and support – and can play a crucial role connecting families with essential resources.

If you work with incarcerated clients, you can help by providing general information about mental health support and community resources on your website. By researching and listing support groups or organizations that assist families of incarcerated individuals on their websites, you can offer practical assistance and help families feel supported.

Additionally, when you raise awareness about and highlight organizations that aid families affected by incarceration, you reduce stigma and encourage openness about their experiences.

By honing your research and writing skills, you as an attorney can contribute to a future where families find comfort, support, and unity as they work toward healing and resilience.

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Public Interest Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.


1 Every Second: The Impact of the Incarceration Crisis on America’s Families, Education Fund, December 2018, pp. 10, 55.

2 Id. at 9, 13, 15, 16, 26.

3 Note: NAMI Family Support Group is not exclusively for individuals impacted by incarceration but is a confidential peer-led support group that offers valuable assistance to any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition.