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Sharing the Sentence: Thousands of IL Children Affected by Parental Incarceration

Thousands of Illinois kids are facing serious roadblocks to financial and emotional stability because of having a parent in prison, according to a new report. (iStockphoto)
Thousands of Illinois kids are facing serious roadblocks to financial and emotional stability because of having a parent in prison, according to a new report. (iStockphoto)
April 25, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Children who have at least one parent that has spent time in prison may also have fewer opportunities in life, according to a report released today.

About 186,000 children in Illinois are struggling with emotional and financial problems as a result of having an incarcerated parent.

That's one of the findings in the Annie E. Casey Foundation report. It also notes that while lawmakers and activists have focused on making changes to mass-incarceration policies, many times the needs of children are overlooked.

Leslie Helmcamp, policy analyst for Voices for Illinois Children, says the state doesn't have a solid support system for these kids, and that could have long-term negative effects.

"Children may suffer from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety," says Helmcamp. "It can hamper their long-term educational goals and achievements. It's really important to have those supports to counter the emotional toll that it takes on a child."

The report also says the issue can have the same effects on children as abuse or domestic violence. Nationally, about 5 million young people have been separated from a parent because of a prison sentence.

The foundation suggests several changes states can make to ease the burden on families. Illinois already has put some of those ideas into practice, including a law that puts restrictions on when employers can ask about an employee's criminal background.

But, Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence with the Casey Foundation, says there are more steps Illinois lawmakers could take.

"State and local governments should provide incentives for housing authorities and private landlords to lift restrictions on people with records," he says. "So families can remain in or access safe and affordable housing."

Additionally, the report notes that African-American and Latino kids are much more likely to have have a parent incarcerated than their white peers.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL