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Report: Parents' Criminal Records Affect 75,000 ND Kids

New numbers show that children who have at least one parent with a criminal record face more challenges throughout life. (iStockphoto)
New numbers show that children who have at least one parent with a criminal record face more challenges throughout life. (iStockphoto)
December 18, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. - With the United States leading the world in incarceration rates, criminal-justice reformers are targeting an unintended consequence. A report issued this month by the left-leaning Center for American Progress reveals that children who have at least one parent with a criminal record also have a tougher time in life.

Report co-author Rebecca Vallas, director of policy for the center's Poverty to Prospterity Program, estimated that more than 75,000 children in North Dakota have a parent with some type of criminal record, even if that parent never was convicted of a crime.

"Having even a minor criminal record can, in many ways, be a life sentence to poverty," she said, "not just for the person with the record but also for their kids and for their family."

The report noted that having a criminal record can negatively affect a parent's access to good incomes, savings, education and housing. Vallas said those issues affect nearly half of the country's children.

A Washington Post analysis earlier this year found that the United States puts people behind bars at a higher rate than any other country. The center's report showed that most employers, colleges and landlords use criminal background checks. With so many parents having criminal records, Vallas said, those factors can combine to create a less-than-ideal childhood.

"It can affect their language development, their school performance, their educational attainment, their health and even their employment and earnings prospects in adulthood," she said.

To help with this issue, Vallas specifically suggested that lawmakers could enact changes such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

"We've got bipartisan agreement among policymakers in Washington that our criminal-justice system needs to be reformed," she said, "that we need to be smart on crime instead of being tough on crime."

These changes include ideas such as a clean-slate policy, which would seal low-level, nonviolent criminal records once a person has proved he or she can live "crime-free for a set period of time."

The full report is online at americanprogress.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND