New Casey Report Recommends Policies to Help Millions of Children With Incarcerated Parents

Posted April 25, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog reportrecommendspoliciesparentalincarceration 2016

In a new report released today, A Shared Sen­tence: The Dev­as­tat­ing Toll of Parental Incar­cer­a­tion on Kids, Fam­i­lies and Com­mu­ni­ties, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion rec­om­mend­ed pol­i­cy reforms that would help mil­lions of chil­dren who strug­gle with emo­tion­al and finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty as a result of hav­ing an incar­cer­at­ed parent.

Research shows that the incar­cer­a­tion of a par­ent can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domes­tic vio­lence. Yet while states spend heav­i­ly on cor­rec­tions, few resources exist to sup­port those left behind. The new KIDS COUNT® pol­i­cy report offers com­mon­sense pro­pos­als to address the increased pover­ty and stress that chil­dren of incar­cer­at­ed par­ents experience.

More than 5 mil­lion chil­dren have expe­ri­enced the sep­a­ra­tion of a par­ent due to incar­cer­a­tion, includ­ing 503,000 in Cal­i­for­nia, 477,000 in Texas and 312,000 in Flori­da, accord­ing to the report. Although the over­all soci­etal and finan­cial impli­ca­tions of mass incar­cer­a­tion have prompt­ed calls for reform from pol­i­cy­mak­ers, advo­cates and activists, the needs of chil­dren who face increased risks and sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles in life are usu­al­ly overlooked.

Our nation’s over­re­liance on incar­cer­a­tion has left mil­lions of chil­dren poor­er, less sta­ble and emo­tion­al­ly cut off from the most impor­tant rela­tion­ship of their young lives,” says Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Casey Foun­da­tion. We are call­ing on states and com­mu­ni­ties to act now, so that these kids — like all kids — have equal oppor­tu­ni­ty and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.”

The Foundation’s three pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions are:

  1. Ensure chil­dren are sup­port­ed while par­ents are incar­cer­at­ed and after they return.
  2. Con­nect par­ents who have returned to the com­mu­ni­ty with path­ways to employment.
  3. Strength­en com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly those dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed by incar­cer­a­tion and reen­try, to pro­mote fam­i­ly sta­bil­i­ty and opportunity.

Lead­ers can take action right now to sup­port chil­dren from the moment their fam­i­lies come in con­tact with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” says Scot Spencer, the Foundation’s asso­ciate direc­tor of pol­i­cy and influ­ence. It is alarm­ing to see eight states with dou­ble-dig­it per­cent­age fig­ures of chil­dren who have had an incar­cer­at­ed par­ent. Racial dis­par­i­ties are also a dis­tress­ing real­i­ty because the like­li­hood that African-Amer­i­can and Lati­no kids will have a par­ent incar­cer­at­ed is about sev­en and three times greater than their white peers, respectively.”

The Foun­da­tion calls for the following:


  • Con­sid­er the impact on kids and fam­i­lies when mak­ing sen­tenc­ing and deci­sions about where par­ents will be confined.
  • Require courts to inform local social ser­vice agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions when a par­ent is incar­cer­at­ed so he or she can con­nect with families.

Com­mu­ni­ty organizations:

  • Build fam­i­ly con­nec­tions and offer pro­grams and resources tai­lored to chil­dren with incar­cer­at­ed parents.
  • Pro­vide fam­i­ly coun­sel­ing and par­ent­ing cours­es through pris­ons and in neighborhoods.

Local gov­ern­ments:

  • Cre­ate addi­tion­al path­ways to employ­ment for ex-offend­ers with anchor insti­tu­tions, such as hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties, to ensure eco­nom­ic inclusion.


  • Direct more funds toward prison edu­ca­tion and train­ing for in-demand jobs to help par­ents resume their role as providers once released.
  • Min­i­mize the neg­a­tive effects of a crim­i­nal record once a par­ent has suc­cess­ful­ly reen­tered soci­ety through ban the box” policies.
  • Facil­i­tate access for affect­ed fam­i­lies to finan­cial, legal, child­care and hous­ing assistance.
  • Enable fam­i­lies impact­ed by incar­cer­a­tion to access Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram and Tem­po­rary Assis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies pro­grams to cov­er basic needs and become self-sufficient.
  • Pro­vide incen­tives to hous­ing author­i­ties and pri­vate land­lords to allow peo­ple with records to access safe, afford­able housing.

Read or down­load A Shared Sentence

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