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179,000 N.C. kids have a parent who has served time

RALEIGH, N.C. – Children of incarcerated parents face serious emotional and financial instability, according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In North Carolina, more than 179,000 children have experienced the separation of a parent due to incarceration.

The KIDS COUNT® policy report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, includes recommendations state and local policymakers should adopt to help these children overcome the challenges of having an incarcerated parent.

“North Carolina spends hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons every year, but allocates very few resources to support the children and families who are left behind,” says Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, a statewide child advocacy group. “We need to make sure children don’t share their parent’s punishment.”

Research shows that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to suffer from poverty and emotional trauma, and in North Carolina, little infrastructure exists to support them.

Melissa Radcliff is the program director for Our Children’s Place of Coastal Horizons Center, Inc., which works with North Carolina communities and policymakers to improve outcomes for children of incarcerated parents.

“Many communities are just starting to have the conversation about what it means for children to have an incarcerated parent,” says Radcliff. “While there are some bright spots, North Carolina has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to addressing this problem.”

Non-profit organizations, such as Charlotte’s Center for Community Transitions, provide tremendous services to families of incarcerated parents, but they can only reach a limited number of children due to financial and geographical constraints.

In North Carolina, the problem of mass incarceration also begins earlier than in most states as a result of our outdated and ineffective policy of charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults regardless of the crime. These youth begin their adult lives, and potentially their lives as parents, facing many of the same financial and emotional challenges that incarcerated adults face.

Furthermore, numerous existing policies undermine family stability during a parent’s prison sentence. For example:

  • Telephone calls to family members are time-limited and costly, which can make staying in touch with family members challenging.
  • The amount inmates can be paid for work inside prison ranges from $0.40 to $1.00 per day depending on the work assignment, making it impossible for inmates to save a meaningful amount of money in advance of their release.
  • Most local housing authorities don’t allow people with a recent felony conviction to live in Section 8 housing. This means that a family living in public housing might have to give up a stable, low-cost home if they want to reunite with an incarcerated loved one.

Despite these challenges, there is some positive movement toward supporting former inmates and their families. For example, Orange County now allows some former inmates to live in public housing with their families, which is critical for a family’s emotional and financial stability.

Additionally, the state has established 10 local re-entry councils that serve as clearinghouses for former inmates looking rejoin the workforce and society. So far, these councils have been very successful, but need to be scaled up to provide all returning prisoners with the same benefits.

These policy and programmatic developments are consistent with the Casey Foundation’s three broad recommendations to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience:

  1. Ensure children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return.
  2. Connect parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment.
  3. Strengthen communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by incarceration and reentry, to promote family stability and opportunity

Additionally, the Casey Foundation issued specific directives for judges, non-profits, local governments, and state lawmakers:

Judges:

  • Consider the impact on kids and families when making sentencing and decisions about where parents will be confined.
  • Require courts to inform local social service agencies and community-based organizations when a parent is incarcerated so he or she can connect with families.

Community organizations:

  • Build family connections and offer programs and resources tailored to children with incarcerated parents.
  • Provide family counseling and parenting courses through prisons and in neighborhoods.

Local governments:

  • Create additional pathways with anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to ensure economic inclusion.

States:

  • Direct more funds toward prison education and training for in-demand jobs.
  • Minimize the negative effects of a criminal record once a parent has successfully reentered society through “ban the box” policies.
  • Facilitate access for affected families to financial, legal, childcare and housing assistance.
  • Enable families impacted by incarceration to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs to cover basic needs and become self-sufficient.
  • Provide incentives to housing authorities and private landlords to allow people with records to access safe, affordable housing.

Detailed recommendations can be found in A Shared Sentence, which will be available April 25 at 12:01 a.m. EDT at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org/sharedsentence.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.

NC Child advances public policies that improve the lives of North Carolina’s children. We work statewide to ensure that all children are healthy, safe, well-educated, and economically secure by engaging communities, and informing and influencing decision-makers. For more information, visit www.ncchild.org.

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