A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, a Newly Released KIDS COUNT® Report

Tuesday, May 03, 2016 | 04:46pm

Released                                                                                                                                   Contact:      Linda O’Neal
Until 12:01 a.m. EDT, April 25, 2016                                                                                    Phone         (615) 532-1600

NASHVILLE, TENN. –– Providing opportunities for all Tennessee children to succeed, including those with incarcerated parents, is the focus of a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Having a parent in jail is one of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that undermine the architecture of a child’s developing brain – the foundation for all child development – with lifelong impacts on mental and physical health.

More than five million U.S. children have had an incarcerated parent. Tennessee is tied with five other states for the third highest prevalence of parental incarceration, with one in 10 children in the state (144,000) having lived with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison after the child was born.

The high rate of incarceration in the United States and Tennessee – unparalleled among developed nations – continues despite a decrease in crime. Incarceration destabilizes families, reduces their income and adversely affects child development, including the development of coping skills.

The report relies on data from one of the questions in the National Survey of Children’s Health section on Adverse Childhood/Family Experiences. Other questions in the survey elicit information about parental drug use and mental illness, exposure to violence and racism, and income insecurity, all issues that disrupt child development and are related to crime risk.

In collaboration with the ACE Awareness Foundation in Memphis and the Building Strong Brains initiative across state departments, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is focused on increasing understanding of ACEs, including parental incarceration, and encouraging implementation of supportive, trauma-informed and resilience-building services to improve outcomes for children.

Children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to experience additional ACEs, including higher incidence of exposure to parental substance abuse, parental divorce or separation, domestic and neighborhood violence, and parental mental illness.

A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities recommends ways communities can better support children who have a parent in prison or jail. The Commission on Children and Youth joins the Casey Foundation in calling for policies and practices that prioritize the needs of children of incarcerated individuals, including:

  • Providing education and training for in-demand jobs for incarcerated individuals and connecting parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment;
  • Ensuring children are supported while parents are incarcerated and have access to public benefits (SNAP, TANF, public housing) when parents return to reduce recidivism and resort to criminality in the absence of assistance or jobs;
  • Providing mentoring programs and other support in early education, schools, child welfare and community-based health centers tailored to children with incarcerated parents;
  • Providing parenting courses and family counseling during and after incarceration;
  • Minimizing the effects of a criminal record once a parent has successfully reentered society through “ban the box” policies, as Tennessee state government and some cities have done.

Incarceration has a lifelong effect on an individual’s ability to be gainfully employed. Supportive services and constructive policies can interrupt the intergenerational cycles of incarceration and the related adverse challenges. Tennessee should engage in concerted efforts to reduce incarceration, especially for non-violent offenses or technical probation or parole violations that do not involve additional crimes. While there is no single solution, a combination of these strategies would likely lead to reduced crime and improved outcomes. Lower spending on incarceration would provide the opportunity to redirect funds toward prevention and supportive services that improve child development and future prosperity.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, an independent state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly, is the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT partner in the state. The Commission’s primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. KIDS COUNT is an initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children.

A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities is available online. Statewide and county-by-county data on Tennessee child well-being indicators are available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org. Information on the state’s spending on children is at www.tn.gov/tccy/MAP-home.shtml. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org/sharedsentence.

For more information, contact (615) 741-2633 or a TCCY regional coordinator.

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.

TCCY is on the web at www.tn.gov/tccy, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tccyonfb and on Twitter as www.twitter.com/@tccy.

Follow the Annie E. Casey Foundation and this issue on Twitter @aecfkidscount and @aecfnews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AnnieECaseyFndn.