In a family where a parent is incarcerated the impact on a child can be traumatic. The separation causes stress on relationships, emotional and mental strain and financial hardships that can leave a lasting impact on a child’s overall well-being. The need for communities to come around these families to provide support and guidance through this time is crucial.
Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration highlights these impacts on kids, families and communities along with solutions to some of the challenges. In America, over five million children have a parent incarcerated or have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. In some states, like Kentucky, the percentage is as high as 13% with kids of incarcerated parents. This not only takes a toll on the child or family but the community as a whole draining resources and hindering opportunities to move out of poverty.
Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) recently came together to host a briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the report and discuss the impacts and potential fixes for children of incarcerated parents. Senator Scott shared part of his own personal story growing up in poverty in South Carolina with a single mom. He said, “I just learned very quickly how easy it is to get off track… Living in one of the more difficult ZIP codes in our country, too often the experience is that your better friends end up either incarcerated or in the grave.”
Senator Scott described his recent visit of a prison on the day that kids were seeing their parents, many of them meeting their parent for the first time. One father was part of a program in which inmates are asked to write a letter to their children asking for forgiveness for their mistakes. Scott described seeing that father meet his daughter for the first time. He said, “these parents have gone through this painful process of understanding where they are and what that does to their kids and explaining to their kids how much they love them… Love at first sight can not be understood until you are in that room, watching that dad follow his daughter in the crowd and watching these kids run towards their dad.”
Senator Booker also discussed the impact incarceration has on children and the need for change with mass incarceration especially for nonviolent offenders. He said, “what happens when you have that massive increase in incarceration for adults is you have that massive impact on the children that are left behind. What’s happening is unconscionable in our country, and we’re damning another generation.” Booker is working to overhaul the criminal justice system by reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, ban solitary confinement for juveniles and bolster programs to reduce recidivism, among others.
Together, Scott and Booker are working on a handful of bipartisan solutions to provide more opportunities for those living in low income communities. Scott discussed his Opportunity Agenda, which he referred to as the “Matthew 25 approach” helping the poor, the thirsty, the hungry, the widow. His initiative for “distressed communities” provides legislative solutions to alleviate poverty through educational opportunities and economic growth through apprenticeship and job training programs. At the briefing Scott related his experience with the families at the prison to his agenda saying, “If we are going to translate that experience into a legislative agenda so that those kids typically without their fathers have a chance to experience their maximum potential. I feel like there is not a higher call as a public servant to give these kids who deserve the best, the brightest and greatest of opportunities for their future.”
For more video highlights from the briefing see on AECF’s Spotlight: