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35,000 Idaho Kids Have a Parent Who Has Served Time

A new report examines the toll mass incarceration takes on Idaho's children. (Kconnors/morguefile)
A new report examines the toll mass incarceration takes on Idaho's children. (Kconnors/morguefile)
April 25, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - About 35,000 children, or eight percent of kids in Idaho, have been separated from a parent by incarceration, according to a new report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzed criminal justice statistics and found nationally, seven percent of children, or more than 5 million, grow up with a parent behind bars.

But Jim Munkres, communications manager with the group Idaho Voices for Children, says the impact on kids is often an afterthought in issues of crime and punishment.

"We do not wish to minimize the suffering of crime victims, and we certainly appreciate the work of law enforcement in keeping Idaho kids safe," Munkres says. "But we do think it's important that every Idaho kid has a chance to succeed, no matter what their parental situation is."

A 2014 report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that in Idaho, despite a relatively low crime rate, time served in prison for nonviolent offenses is close to double the national average.

The report recommends judges keep children in mind when making sentencing and placement decisions and says states should make it easier for families to access counseling and social services.

Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence with the Casey Foundation, says the emotional impact of these separations for kids is undeniable.

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

Idaho passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2014, which is reducing the prison population by improving post-release supervision so fewer people end up violating parole.

The Casey report also recommends strengthening programs that help people get jobs and find housing once their sentence is complete.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID