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Where's Mommy or Daddy?

A report shows that the impact of having a parent in prison is as traumatic as abuse or domestic violence for a child. (Pixabay)
A report shows that the impact of having a parent in prison is as traumatic as abuse or domestic violence for a child. (Pixabay)
April 26, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio has the fourth-highest number of children growing up with a parent in prison, which a new report finds has a devastating impact on families and communities.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation findings, 271,000 Ohio children have been affected by parental incarceration, and it is seven times more likely among African-American children and three times more likely among Latino children than whites.

Renuka Mayadev, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, said it's a traumatic experience, much like child abuse or domestic violence.

"It's a very startling point in a child's life," she said. "Where the criminal justice system sees a criminal, a child sees mommy or daddy."

Mayadev said reforms are needed that provide the essential services that children need to get through this tough time and that help stabilize families upon an incarnated parent's release. The report recommended increased education and job training for people in prison, and incentives for housing authorities to reduce the barriers people with criminal records face in getting affordable housing.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for advocacy and influence, said the justice system also needs to take into account the impact on families when making sentencing decisions and help them nurture the bond between parent and child.

"Location can matter in how a child can actually have access to their parent while that parent is incarcerated," he said, "providing other ways for kids to connect with their families using technology, such as video conferencing."

Mayadev said Ohio's prison population has risen 12 percent in the past decade while violent crime has reached a 30-year low. She said the Casey report is further evidence of the need to re-evaluate the reasons people are being sentenced to time behind bars.

"Right now is a perfect opportunity," she said, "because the Criminal Justice Recodification Committee has come together in Ohio, to really take a close look at why we have individuals in prison and how that affects the larger family unit."

Nationally, more than 5 million children have a parent who has been incarcerated.

The report is online at aecf.org/sharedsentence.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH