More than 5 million children across the nation, including 44,000 in Utah, experience separation from a parent due to incarceration. A new report, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation examines hardships for children, and discusses new policies to help children who have a parent in jail.
The newly released report recommends a number of proposals state and local policymakers could adopt to improve the health and well-being of children when a parent is behind bars.
Terry Haven, deputy director for Voices for Utah Children, says officials need to find ways to keep children connected with a parent who is serving time.
"We need to make sure that when we're tough on crime, that it doesn't become a tragedy for kids," says Haven. "Having a parent in prison creates a tremendous vacuum in a child's life. We need to make sure that, if it's what needs to be happening and is safe for the child that a child is not cut off from their parent."
The report, "A Shared Sentence," says it's important for judges to take into account how a prison sentence might affect a family, and that states and cities need to develop and fund more programs to reinforce the bonds between an incarcerated parent and their children.
Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence, with the Casey Foundation says the report also recommends minimizing some negative effects of a criminal record to help the parent successfully re-enter society, making it easier to find a job and affordable housing upon their release.
"States should take advantage of newly-raised thresholds for funding prison education programs under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act," Spencer says. "And direct more funds towards education and training for incarcerated individuals."
Spencer adds the report recommends providing more social services for children and families while a parent is incarcerated, including access to financial, legal, child-care and housing assistance.