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Almost half of US adults have seen a relative jailed, study shows

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, and 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 with 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 with 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 with 10 percent.


Low-income Americans are also more likely to see their relatives jailed: more than half of adults making $25,000 a 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.