Parenting from Prison


            Most people can understand how prison can destroy one’s life.  One mistake can put an end to one’s dreams and alter their remaining years forever.  However, very little emphasis is placed on what effect prison has on the children of incarcerated parents.

            The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit agency dedicated to research an advocacy on criminal justice policy issues, recently released a study that emphasizes the destruction of stability for children of incarcerated parents and what can be done to help their upbringing after a loss of a parent to the justice system.

            The Sentencing Project reports that often these children rarely visit their parent(s) while incarcerated and many jailed parents report never receiving a visit at all from their children.  The report also shows that these children are much more likely to drop out of school, and engage in destructive behavior themselves, which sometimes leads to their own incarceration.

            According to the report, “In 2007 there were 1.7 million children in America with a parent in prison, more than 70 % of whom were children of color … Many children, especially in cases of women’s incarceration, were in single-parent homes and are then cared for by a grandparent or other relative, if not in foster care.”

The rise in the number of children of incarcerated parents can be attributed to the rising number of mothers in prison.  The number of mothers in prison has increased by 112% from 29,500 in 1991 to 65,600 in 2007.  Furthermore, in 2007 one in 15 African American children had a parent in prison, compared to one in 42 Hispanic children and one in 111 White children. 

Another factor the can affect a child who has a parent in prison is the marital status of their parents.  Stereotypically, a child from a two parent home can better cope with having a parent incarcerated than someone who has to begin a new life with a different guardian in a different home.  According to the report, “More than half of all incarcerated parents have never been married, and increase of 19% since 1997, and only 17% of incarcerated parents were married at the time of their imprisonment, a decrease of 28% since 1997 … Although most incarcerated parents have never been married, many have lived with their children prior to arrest.  Among parents in federal prisons in 2004, [approximately] half (48%) had lived with their children in the month prior to their arrest.”

Even after their release, children of incarcerated parents have to cope with reestablishing the bond with a parent that they have grown up without for some period of time.  This is often made more difficult because of economic and geographic factors.

However, the Sentencing Project has offered many suggestions in their report that they believe will aid in this transition.  The non-profit organization believes the Adoption and Safe Families ACT (ASFA), signed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 should be repealed.  This bill authorized the termination of parental rights for any parent with a child living under foster care for 15 of the last 22 months.  The average prison sentence exceeds 22 months.

Additionally, The Sentencing Project believes correction institutions should support parent/child relationships.  According to the report, “The Bedford Hills, NY, women’s prison, for example, has long maintained a program by which newborn babies can live with their mothers in prison for a time.”  Furthermore, the organizations believes that laws prohibiting former inmates from receiving food stamps has no useful purpose and adversely affects the children of incarcerated parents. 

Therefore, the Sentencing Project believes that even if a parent made a mistake the ruined their future, the future of their children should not be ruined in the process.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine

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