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103,000 Virginia Children Will Have a Parent in Prison

A new report describes what it calls the devastating impact on Virginia children when a parent is incarcerated. (NC DPS)
A new report describes what it calls the devastating impact on Virginia children when a parent is incarcerated. (NC DPS)
April 25, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - About six percent of Virginia children have to grow up with a parent behind bars at some point. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that can hurt them for life.

The report, called "A Shared Sentence," says 103,000 Virginia children will have had a parent behind bars during their youth. And Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence for the Casey Foundation, says it could leave permanent scars.

"Having a parent incarcerated can be a lifelong experience," says Spencer. "It has the same magnitude of impact as abuse, domestic violence and divorce."

According to the report, more than 5 million children nationwide are separated from parents because of incarceration.

Spencer says nearly two-thirds of families with a jailed parent have financial trouble. He says not only can that make children's lives a precarious struggle, but problems can continue after the parent is released. Felons have a hard time getting decent work, which affects their families and communities.

"Incarceration in lots of ways is a destabilizer to households," Spencer says. "If you lose a parent who is a breadwinner for long periods, it leaves families really scrambling to figure out how to make ends meet."

The report says states should make it easier for people who've been released to get a clean record, and should improve job training and rehabilitation. Spencer says without help, their families really struggle.

"In some, that means that the parent or the guardian is making decisions about whether to pay rent or to provide food," Spencer says.

It makes recommendations for courts, communities and states to be supportive of kids and help keep family bonds as strong as possible during this tough time.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA