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Parents' Prison Time Affects 8 Percent of SD Kids

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016   

PIERRE, S.D. - Some "tough-on-crime" policies may be having unintended consequences for thousands of South Dakota children, according to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

Children of incarcerated parents face more serious roadblocks to opportunities in life, the report said. It noted that about 17,000 South Dakota children, or 8 percent, have a parent who has spent time in prison, which often means more emotional and financial problems than other kids. Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for advocacy and influence, said that can have long-term negative effects.

"Having a parent incarcerated can be a lifelong experience," he said. "It has the same magnitude of impact as abuse, domestic violence and divorce."

The report suggested several changes South Dakota can make to ease the burden on families, including job training in prison and enacting a "ban the box" law that puts certain restrictions on when employers can ask about criminal backgrounds on job applications.

Spencer said state lawmakers could help by backing new ways for these families to access financial, legal, child-care and housing assistance.

"As much as we may focus on the issue of changing incarceration laws," he said, "while we're doing that, we also look for ways to be supportive of the children and the families who are left behind during that incarceration period."

The report noted that, nationally, more than 5 million children are separated from a parent because of a prison sentence.

The report is online at aecf.org/sharedsentence.


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