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Report: Children Suffer When Parent Does Time

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that more than 5 million American children have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. (AndrejsZendega/iStockphoto)
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that more than 5 million American children have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. (AndrejsZendega/iStockphoto)
April 26, 2016

PHOENIX - More than 5 million children across the nation, including 138,000 in Arizona, have experienced separation from a parent because of incarceration. A new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends a set of policies it believes state and local officials should adopt to improve the health and well-being of children with a parent behind bars.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for advocacy and influence, said separation from an incarcerated parent can have a devastating effect on a child.

"They're losing their parent in those critical years of child development, and so there are some long-standing impacts," he said. "It can increase a child's mental-health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it can hamper educational achievement in that child."

Statistics show that 9 percent of Arizona children, well above the national average, have been separated from a parent who is doing time. The report, "A Shared Sentence," recommended that policymakers provide more social services for children and families while a parent is incarcerated and more job training for parents before they are released.

Spencer said judges need to consider how a sentence will affect the family and added that states need to develop and fund more programs to reinforce the bonds between the incarcerated parent and their children.

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

Spencer said the report also recommended providing access to financial, legal, child-care and housing assistance for affected families, "ban-the-box" policies to remove barriers to employment, and incentives to landlords to allow people with a record to secure safe and affordable housing.

The report is online at aecf.org/sharedsentence.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ