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Report: Kids Serve "Shared Sentence" When Parents Go to Jail

A parent's incarceration can trigger anxiety and depression in his or her children. (tuti61/Pixabay)
A parent's incarceration can trigger anxiety and depression in his or her children. (tuti61/Pixabay)
April 25, 2016

NEW YORK – When parents go to prison, the effects on their children can be devastating, but a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says there are ways to lessen the impact.

Nationwide, more than 5 million children, including 148,000 in New York, have seen a parent go to jail or prison.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, says for the child that can be as traumatizing as abuse, domestic violence or divorce.

"There are some longstanding impacts,” he points out. “It can increase a child's mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it can hamper educational achievement in that child."

The Casey Foundation's report, "A Shared Silence," outlines policy recommendations to help children and parents cope with incarceration and with reintegration as a family after a release from prison.

While the majority of incarcerated adults in New York are from New York City, most state prisons are upstate. Spencer suggests one way to help children is for judges to take family into consideration during sentencing and prison assignment.

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

Other measures can help parents provide for their families after they're released from prison, including housing rules that don't discriminate against people with records.

New York City recently passed a ban the box law removing questions about criminal convictions from employment applications. Spencer says several states and dozens of other cities have passed similar laws.

"They defer the question about a person's record to the conditional employment stage, so that they have more stable footing to be able to apply for the job and qualify for the job," he explains.

The report says 65 percent of families with a person in prison struggle to meet basic needs.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY