How to Explain Jail to Kids - Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney

By Carlos Gamino

If you’re a caregiver to a child whose father is in jail or prison, you know how difficult it can be to explain the situation in a meaningful, age-appropriate way.

The kids of incarcerated parents often feel confused, scared, and upset—but as a caregiver, whether you’re the children’s other parent, grandparent, or another relative or loved one, there are things you can do to help.

How to Explain a Father’s Incarceration to a Child

It’s best if you can encourage the child to be open and honest with you, and you should always be open and honest with him or her. All your responses to questions, such as, “Why is my dad in jail?” should be age-appropriate, though, which can be tough.

For younger kids, it can be helpful to simply explain that jail and prison are a little like long time-outs for adults. For older kids, it’s still best to avoid details about the situation; simply saying that the child’s father has broken a law and as a result, is spending time in jail or prison.

Questions Kids Often Ask

Kids with an incarcerated father may ask questions such as:

  • How long will my dad be in jail?
  • Will I have to move?
  • Where will I live?
  • Will I be able to live with my dad when he gets out of jail?
  • Is it my fault?
  • Will I go to jail, too?

Kids may also have specific questions about what it’s like in jail, and it’s a good idea to explain the answers as best you can. Kids might ask, and you might respond:

  • What do people wear in jail? People who are in jail wear uniforms that match that facility’s dress code.
  • Are people in jail safe? Corrections officers are there to help people in jail stay safe.
  • What happens if my dad gets sick? There are medical facilities inside jails, and if your dad gets sick, he can ask to see a doctor.
  • Can I talk to or see my dad while he’s in jail? In many cases, you’ll have a visitation schedule; your answer to this question will depend on several factors.
  • What should I tell other people about my dad? There are several things the child can choose to tell others, including sharing the fact that two in 100 kids have had a parent in jail or prison. You may also choose to help the child figure out what he or she is most comfortable with by offering visits with a counselor or therapist who specializes in assisting kids with incarcerated fathers.
  • What do people do in jail? People who are in jail or prison can work, go to school, or attend special programs and classes. They can also pursue their hobbies, such as art, reading, writing, and exercising.
  • What do people eat when they’re in jail? Most jails and prisons have cafeteria-style dining facilities. In some cases, corrections officers bring food on trays to inmates’ cells.

While it’s never easy to explain incarceration to a child, our team of Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys will be happy to refer you to a counselor or therapist who specializes in helping children of parents who are in jail or prison. Call us at 414-383-6700 in Milwaukee. You can also contact us online if it’s easier.

Carlos Gamino