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Report: Kids Need Support when Parents are Behind Bars

Almost two-thirds of families with a parent in prison, such as the Anamosa State Penitentiary, can't pay for necessities for their kids. (Klepper66/Wikimedia Commons)
Almost two-thirds of families with a parent in prison, such as the Anamosa State Penitentiary, can't pay for necessities for their kids. (Klepper66/Wikimedia Commons)
April 25, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - Eight percent of kids in Iowa, that's 58,000, have a parent behind bars, a number that has risen significantly in the last few decades. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says the side effects of parents in prison are often poverty, homelessness and hunger.

Michael Crawford, senior associate with the Iowa-based Child and Family Policy Center, says it also takes an emotional toll.

"These children are facing emotional and financial instability by being separated from their parent, and research has shown that the impact can be just as significant as abuse or domestic violence on a child's life," says Crawford.

The report suggests ways that states, courts and community groups can steer families to financial and legal support, and safety-net programs. It says 65 percent of families with a parent in prison struggle to meet basic needs.

Iowa is one of many states where "tough-on-crime" policies are being reexamined in some cases, in part because of the high cost of incarceration. Crawford says for families, there also are emotional costs that must be considered.

"We're not calling for reduced sentences or things like that," Crawford says. "We're working to help the families of the people that are incarcerated, so the children won't suffer in their lives."

One recommendation in the report is that judges take minor children into consideration in sentencing and also in deciding where a person serves their time.

Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence with the Casey Foundation, says kids and parents need that "family time," even if mom or dad is behind bars.

"Location can matter and how a child can actually have access to their parent while that parent is incarcerated," says Spencer. "Providing other ways for kids to connect with their families using technology, such as video conferencing."

The report also recommends incentives for landlords and housing authorities to make it easier for people with criminal records to find safe, affordable housing when they're released.

Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA