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Report: Prison Sentences Affect Both Parent and Child

About 52,000 New Mexico children are growing up with a parent in prison during at least part of their childhood. (zodebala/iStockphoto)
About 52,000 New Mexico children are growing up with a parent in prison during at least part of their childhood. (zodebala/iStockphoto)
April 25, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – More than 5 million children across the nation, including 52,000 in New Mexico, experience separation from a parent due to incarceration.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends a number of proposals state and local policymakers could adopt to improve the health and well being of children when a parent is behind bars.

Veronica García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, says 1 in 10 children in the state has a parent serving time – one of the highest percentages in the country.

"What the data does show is that it has a financial impact on the family, that children then lack the resources for basic needs, oftentimes food and housing, and the emotional trauma that can impact the child," she points out.

The report, "A Shared Sentence," lays out a series of policy recommendations to help children and parents cope with incarceration, and with reintegration as a family after a release from prison.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, says judges need to consider the effects a sentence will have on a family, and that states need to develop and fund more programs to reinforce the bonds between parents and their children.

"The focus of this report is really to highlight how policies and practices around incarceration first impact those kids and families, and what policy considerations can do to help the kids and families who are left behind as the result of incarceration," he states.

For families, the report recommends improving access to financial, legal, child care and housing assistance while a parent is in prison.

It also recommends minimizing some negative effects of a criminal record to help the parent successfully re-enter society, making it easier to find a job and affordable housing upon his or her release.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM