According to a new study, there are approximately 1.1 million parents in prison with somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.3 million children. 90% of parents in prison are fathers but the number of mothers in prison has almost doubled in the last ten years. The percentage of children with incarcerated parents has stayed steady at 57%.
The Florida Law Review conducted a study that focused on finding new methods to include and encourage more family involvement and activities inside prison walls. The thought is that these types of programs will aid and foster a healthy relationship while encouraging families during long separations.
Entitled "The Intersection of Juvenile Justice and Early Childhood: How to Maximize Family Engagement" was published in April and included some key findings. The children are the real victims of parental incarceration and risk much emotional trauma and have to deal with abrupt changes in their lives.
The process of incarceration happens in stages that are difficult for a child to process. The first arrest will lead to the first change. If there are repeat offenses, or a harsher crime/sentence, separation will be longer and possibly sporadic. This can be traumatizing to a child of any age.
The study notes, "The long-term impact of incarceration on children depends on a variety of factors, including their age." Younger children are more likely to have behavioral and emotional issues, as well as anxiety. For school-age children, their issues are a higher likelihood of having lower grades and poor relationship with their peers. They are also prone to being teased about having a parent in prison.
Support of family and child-friendly programs highlight the importance of ending the cycle. A few policies were identified that are a must for these programs to work are: Create consistency for both parent and child; Develop goal-oriented relationships; Engage families around the child's well being; Develop strong relationships with community and leaders; Continuously learn and improve.
There are already a few parent-friendly policies in place. Every once in a while a woman will give birth in prison. Usually, that baby is taken from the mother within two-three days and either given to a family member. This early separation is negative for both mother and baby. A Bedford Hills, NY prison is the first of its kind based on the parenting program. Infants are allowed to stay with their mothers in a prison nursery until they are 12-18 months years of age.
This particular study concludes that there could be nothing but positive for parents to have more consistent, strong relationships with their children. We speculate that seeing your child could inspire you to better yourself with the hope of reuniting.
The financial constraints are the only drawbacks. Though it should be considered that more parent-child friendly prison programs have the long-term effect of breaking the cycle of children following in their parent's footsteps which can change a whole generation of prisons.