One out of every 14 children in Washington state has at least one parent who is or has been incarcerated. These 109,000 kids’ counterparts nationwide total 5.1 million—a conservative estimate, according to a new KIDS COUNT report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The number of children affected by incarceration in Washington is 6.5 times greater than the number of inmates in the state’s 12 correctional centers. The needs of these children, as they face increased risks and significant obstacles in life, are often overlooked. Research shows that having a parent imprisoned can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence.
According to the report, the number of children with a father in prison nearly doubled between 1991 and 2007, and those with a mother behind bars more than doubled. Compared with their White peers, Black and Latino kids are seven and three times more likely, respectively, to have a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives.
While better state-level data is needed to understand the impact of incarceration on children of diverse backgrounds, it’s clear that communities of color pay a disproportionate share of the social cost of incarceration. These unequal conditions are a product of inequitable policies and practices, from school discipline to policing to parole. In their place, we need public policies that ensure continuity of care, economic security and an intact emotional bond between children and parents from all walks of life—so that all kids have real opportunity and a chance to thrive.
When we let kids whose parents are in prison struggle and suffer, we add to the generational pull of poverty.
Here in Washington, lawmakers made some progress this past legislative session to lessen the harm done to children whose parents have been incarcerated.
The House and Senate unanimously passed a law allowing formerly incarcerated adults to petition a court for a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity that would become part of the adult’s record—showing potential landlords and employers that an ex-offender has fulfilled his sentence and is paying off (or has paid off) associated fines. Placed among the personal records maintained by law enforcement, a Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity would improve an ex-offender’s opportunities for employment and housing.
Another good idea did not move forward. House Bill 1390 sought to stop or restrict the accrual of interest on an inmate’s prison-associated fines or fees, and to allow judges to consider living expenses and other responsibilities, including child support, when deciding whether to sanction an individual for not paying legal financial obligations. While H.B. 1390 passed the state House, it did not receive a vote in the Senate. We look forward to supporting similar legislative proposals in the 2017 legislative session, for greater economic security for all families.
To read the full report, "A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities," click here.