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January 6, 2015

Notable discussions of children as mass incarceration’s "collateral damage"

Child-in-Court-boy-text1The latest issue of The Nation includes this effective piece about the generational impact of incarceration headlined "Mass Incarceration’s Collateral Damage: The Children Left Behind; When a parent is sent to prison, a child’s life is derailed, leaving schools to pick up the pieces."  Here is an excerpt:

A growing body of research suggests that one of the most pernicious effects of high adult-incarceration rates can be seen in the struggles of children ... who often lose a crucial source of motivation and support with their parents behind bars....

A very small subset of children — those with abusive parents — were found to be more likely to thrive academically and socially if their parents are incarcerated. But most children declined markedly. In fact, the new research suggests that prisoners’ children may be the most enduring victims of our national incarceration craze. “Even for kids at high risk of problems, parental incarceration makes a bad situation worse,” concluded Christopher Wildeman and Sara Wakefield in their recently published book, Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality.

Wildeman and Wakefield found that children with incarcerated fathers were three times more likely than peers from similar backgrounds to become homeless. They also suffered significantly higher rates of behavioral and mental-health problems, most notably aggression.

Kristin Turney, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, reached similar conclusions in a report published this past September. Turney found that children with incarcerated parents were three times more likely to suffer from depression or behavioral problems than the average American child, and twice as likely to suffer from learning disabilities and anxiety....

Within the last few years, however, a broad range of agencies and policy-makers have begun to frame the nation’s prison boom as a children’s issue. Last summer, the Justice Department launched a wide-reaching campaign to provide support to the children of imprisoned parents — by rethinking visitation policies and changing the protocol for arresting parents in front of children, for example. In August, the American Bar Foundation and the National Science Foundation invited key researchers, advocates and federal officials to the White House for a conference to discuss reducing the “collateral costs” to children and communities when parents are incarcerated. The conference was part of a larger inter-agency initiative begun in 2012 to focus the attention of participating agencies, including the Department of Education, on the children of incarcerated parents. A few months later, in November, the Federal Bureau of Prisons hosted its first-ever Universal Children’s Day, an event attended by nearly 8,500 children visiting more than 4,000 federal inmates....

John Hagan, a professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University, led the White House conference with his research collaborator, Holly Foster, of Texas A&M University. Fifteen years ago, in an oft-cited paper, Hagan first suggested that the effects on children might be “the least understood and most consequential” result of mass incarceration. Now Hagan is seeing his hypothesis proved. More than that, as his adolescent subjects enter adulthood, the effects are compounded: “Almost no children of incarcerated mothers make it through college,” he noted. “These people are now in early adulthood, and they’re really struggling.”

I have long believed and asserted that politicians and policy advocates truly concerned about family values and children's interests should be deeply concerned about the over-use of incarceration as a punishment, especially for non-violent offenders.  And I find fascinating and compelling the suggestion in this lengthy post at The Clemency Report titled "Children deserve legal standing when parents are sentenced." Here is how the potent post by Dennis Cauchon starts:

Are children entitled to legal standing when parents are sentenced in criminal cases? The current answer is “no.” The answer should be “yes.”

Today, the well-being of a defendant’s children is close to irrelevant in criminal courtrooms. Institutional indifference to children is official policy. This is the most profound legal error in the last 35 years, the mistake that made mass imprisonment possible.

Criminal courts produce millions of orphans every year using procedures that weigh only the interests of adults in the courtroom. This is a profoundly ignorant way for a bureaucracy to act. Removing a mother or father from a child’s life is a not mere “side effect”of the day’s procedure; it is an “effect,” often the most important thing that will happen that day.

Children deserve rights — legal rights, established in law — to end their mistreatment in criminal courts.

In domestic courts, the “best interest of the children” is the trump card standard that overrides almost all other adult needs in divorce and custody cases. In criminal courts, defendant’s children are treated as trash in the back row. This difference is legally shameful and morally indefensible.

January 6, 2015 at 04:05 PM | Permalink


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It is indeed tragic when parents are imprisoned. The fault lies with the parents, and the parents alone. As I once heard a well-respected judge (and quite liberal judge) say to a defendant "if you loved your kids as much as you say, you would have never jeopardized their future by doing what you did." In our society today, however, the fault lies with everybody else. The justice system, the police, the schools, the economy, and so on. One final point, do you think Little Jimmy is really better off with his meth cook of a father at home? Or at home with his mother who is so addicted to oxy that she hasn't fed the kids in three days? Non-violent drug offenders. After all, they don't really hurt anybody.

Posted by: hmmm | Jan 6, 2015 4:39:16 PM

One needs a full time truth squad.

As an adult, you visit a home for a few minutes. Criminal activity is going on. Dealing, using, prostitution, intoxication. Do you feel stressed out. Do you feel like leaving? You are an adult. You can leave. Imagine being a child in a criminal home. The rates of child pathology among those with incarcerated parents were in comparison to those of the general population. What were they in comparison to children living in a criminal household?

The criminal, does he feel attached to the crack whore that carried his child? If not for prison, would he be coaching Little League to get closer to his child? Is that what would happen if we loosed the non-violent criminals, those that did only drug dealing?

What about the children the criminal did not spawn because conjugal visits are only once in a while? Should they be counted as a benefit?

This issue is a Trojan Horse. Loose the criminal, get a tsunami of child abuse of every kind, generate massive child pathology by the stress of living in a criminal, addicted household, not even fit for human habitation due to the priority of paying the crack bill over the electric bill.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 6, 2015 7:20:35 PM

Over a few years, a career criminal on the hoof is worth millions of dollars to government employees.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 6, 2015 10:58:49 PM

Seems to me the poster children for growing up in a criminal's home are Sasha and Mila.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 6, 2015 11:03:27 PM

The vile feminist lawyer is a trip. It destroys the black family by assaults from all directions, including open season on the black male, forbearing thousands of murders. Now the feminist lawyer wants to loose mass murderers who protected their territory by killing thousands of black males, about the same number each year it took the KKK, another lawyer founded and run fraternal organization, 100 years to achieve. Now, the supercilious bemoans the result of bastardy it caused intentionally, incarceration.

Before whites feel any smugness, the vile feminist is now after the white family. The white bastardy rate is up to 40%, ten fold its past fraction. Black and white should understand what is happening to them and to their families. Then go out and apply the lash to the vile feminist lawyer and its male running dog. End the attack on the family.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 7, 2015 12:27:02 AM

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