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Report: Parents' Criminal Records Affect 80,000 South Dakota Kids

A new study shows that children with parents in jail have worse outcomes. (Jerry Oster)
A new study shows that children with parents in jail have worse outcomes. (Jerry Oster)
December 21, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – With the United States leading the world in incarceration rates, criminal justice reformers are targeting an unintended consequence of that.

A new report this month from the progessive advocacy group Center for American Progress reveals that children who have at least one parent with a criminal record also have a tougher time in life.

Rebecca Vallas, a co-author of the report, estimates that in South Dakota more than 80,000 children have a parent with some type of criminal record, though not necessarily a conviction.

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

The report notes that having a criminal record can negatively affect a parent's access to good incomes, savings, education and housing.

Vallas says those issues affect nearly half of the country's children.

A Washington Post analysis earlier this year found that the U.S. puts people behind bars at a higher rate than any other country.

The center's report shows that most employers, colleges and landlords use criminal background checks.

With so many parents having criminal records, Vallas says 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 stresses.

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

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

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

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD