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Study Details Effects of Parents in Prison on Kids, Communities

A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report looks at how having a parent in prison affects their children, including about 12,000 in Wyoming. (Pixabay)
A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report looks at how having a parent in prison affects their children, including about 12,000 in Wyoming. (Pixabay)
April 25, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Having an incarcerated parent has the same impact on children as abuse, domestic violence or divorce, according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nearly 1 in 10 Wyoming children has a parent or guardian who has spent time in prison or jail.

Micah Richardson, associate communications director for the Wyoming Community Foundation, says while the larger conversation on mass incarceration in the U.S. is important, it's time to focus on challenges facing communities right here at home.

"Because it affects families, it affects kids, but it also affects the town that you live in,” she states. “So, it's important to look at this as an issue that affects everyone in the state and not just a few, select people."

The report says the absence of working parents leads to fractured social networks and weakened local economies. And when parents are released and can't find work or housing, they're more likely to return to crime, in a cycle that puts additional stress on communities.

The report says most children of incarcerated parents are age 10 or younger, and are at greater risk of ending up homeless.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, says more than 15 percent of children with parents in federal prison, and more than 20 percent with parents in state prison, are younger than four.

"They're losing their parent in those critical years of child development and so, there are some long-standing 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."

Policy recommendations in the report include more social services for children and families during and after a parent's incarceration, and increasing job training behind bars so parents are better able to support their families after their release.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY