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‘Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children’ shows how to minimize impact of parental incarceration on kids

A new Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children issue brief by Kentucky Youth Advocates, Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children, shows three out of every five inmates in state custody have children, impacting approximately 32,700 Kentucky kids. The brief highlights the prevalence of parental incarceration in Kentucky, the impact it has on children, and the criminal justice policy changes that could hold parents accountable for their actions in ways that allow them to still care for their children.

“Parental incarceration is a shared sentence, impacting the health and well-being of kids in the short-term and across their lifetime,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Children need their parents to care for them and work to meet their basic needs. Yet, at 15 percent, Kentucky has the second highest rate in the nation of kids who’ve been separated from their parent due to incarceration.”

Seventy-one percent of women incarcerated have children. With Kentucky’s trend of increasing female incarceration rates, the commonwealth can expect the number of children impacted by parental incarceration to climb.

“Tragically, children growing up without a father or mother at home, due to incarceration, is an all too common reality today — especially in Kentucky,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley. “This is one of the vital issues that must be addressed as we pursue comprehensive criminal justice reform. We must find innovative solutions to help keep our families whole and to preserve those sacred bonds. Otherwise, the Commonwealth will suffer the consequences for generations to come.”

According to the new brief, many parents – especially mothers — who are incarcerated are serving time for lower-level crimes. More than 60 percent of women locked up are incarcerated for the least serious category of felony. Nearly a third of incarcerated mothers are serving time for a drug offense, and another 25 percent are incarcerated for a property crime. Despite the high number of drug offenses, many women do not have access to substance abuse treatment because they are often housed in county jails without the same range of options as state prisons.

“The high percentage of female inmates with children means thousands of kids are impacted by the trauma of losing that maternal care, and for many children that also means going into our foster care system,” said Senator Julie Raque Adams, Chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to make changes to our criminal justice policies, especially in how we respond to lower-level offenses. We simply have too many children impacted by having a mother or father in prison in Kentucky.”

Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children outlines key recommendations for smart, pragmatic criminal justice policy changes that would hold parents accountable effectively while working to minimize the impact of parental incarceration on children:

• When it is safe to do so,
release low-level offenders prior to trial so parents can work and care for their children.

• Focus incarceration on those who pose a risk or threat to public safety and, in conjunction, expand substance abuse treatment in the community.

• Support strong families by maintaining connections during incarceration.

• Allow formerly incarcerated parents to adequately provide for their families by minimizing financial barriers upon release.

“Through the commitment of Governor Bevin, Secretary Tilley, and key members of the legislature, Kentucky has become a national leader in reforming the justice system to recognize the long-lasting impact of incarceration and prioritize the outcomes of kids and families,” said Dr. Brooks. “Our leaders have the opportunity to continue that momentum through common-sense policy changes in 2018.”

Read Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children at www.kyyouth.org.

From Kentucky Youth Advocates

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One Comment

  1. Leigh Anne Stephens says:

    Dragging a child to a county jail for visitation is cruel and unusual punishment for a child. It’s just more emotional abuse for a traumatized child! I hope that is not part of the plan, but I’m sure it is. Many parents in jail have so badly abused and neglected their children, they really shouldn’t have a second chance. Is a detailed history of abuse and neglect of children included in these statistics?

    I am a District Judge in an opioid infested county. I have spent 15 years trying to pull as many from the fire as I could. It has been an intensive and exhausting effort. I have given incarcerated women and men every possible opportunity for drug rehabilitation. They are interviewed for rehab twice a week in court. Some defendants have been to rehab multiple times. Usually, if they agree to go, it’s because they want out of jail. Usuallly they are not serious about making a change. Lately defendants even turn down opportunities for drug court, because it’s too hard and they would rather do the time. Apparently, drugs are readily available in Jail.

    After a time and seeing limited success with drug rehab, the officers in my court and I, started a camp for children. I presided over juvenile court also.
    When you hear the stories of neglect and abuse firsthand, it stands your hair on end. It can shock you to your core. It’s a nightmare!

    This article makes it sound like the court system makes no effort whatsoever. Whoever it is that looks at statistics and comes up with these big ideas, has not the first clue about what really goes on. I invite anyone to visit a District court, see the reality. Don’t just spend an hour or two, do research on each individual, check their long criminal histories, interview their children and the people who have to care for their children. See what horrible behaviors some children exhibit after being taken to visitation with a parent. Listen to children who have had to report their own abuse and neglect to teachers and then have to come to court to testify against their parents, then come up with an idea.

    If parents have landed themselves in jail, they made a choice that did not make their child a priority.

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