Innocent Victims: Children with Incarcerated Parents

June 30th, 2016 by Attorney Dan Carman

Child Abuse Case

The United States is a wonderful country, for reasons both factual and personal, but it does have its challenges. Energy policies, terrorism, economic growth, and racial tensions are just a few of the hot button issues that dominate the headlines, yet did you know that the U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any other nation? There are more than 2.3 million people housed in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,283 local jails. Mass incarceration is just one side of the overcriminalization coin. Each year, 636,000 people walk out of prison, but people go to jail over 11 million times. Between 70 million and 100 million adults have some type of criminal record. That’s a lot of lives affected by the criminal justice system, perhaps none more so than the children of those who find themselves entangled in this web.

A report released in April based on 2012 data conservatively estimates that 5.1 million children in this country have had a parent in jail or prison at some point. The number in Kentucky alone is staggering – 135,000 kids, which translates to 13 percent of Bluegrass children, have experienced parental incarceration. It is the highest percentage of any state and almost double the national average.

Having a parent incarcerated is an adverse childhood experience so potentially traumatic that it can be a cause of negative or unhealthy adult behaviors such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and obesity. It is a stressful, destabilizing event similar to divorce that can result in kids acting out in school, blaming themselves, missing developmental milestones, having trouble making emotional attachments, and being judged by others. The loss of income is a particularly devastating side effect with about half of incarcerated parents having provided primary financial support. According to the report, family incomes drop 22 percent when fathers are incarcerated, about 65 percent of families with a member in prison or jail can’t meet basic needs, and one-third land in debt. The remaining parent or extended family members left to care for the child often face child-care and work conflicts.

The unstable environment that exists during parental incarceration doesn’t necessarily improve when they return to the community and attempt family reunification. Having a criminal record can be a significant barrier to gainful employment, decent housing, and getting a loan. Additionally, lack of training, work experience, and a solid job history make it nearly impossible to land a job that pays a family-supporting wage. Public housing authorities can exercise discretion and private landlords may reject tenants with criminal pasts without considering the circumstances, which can lead to housing instability and even to homelessness.

If you have been pulled into the criminal justice system and are also a parent, you have more at stake than those who are not. What happens to you can have a ripple effect on a young life for years to come. An advocate in your corner who will thoroughly review and investigate your situation can make all the difference in the charges filed against you, the outcome of your court case, the length and type of any sentence, whether to pursue expungement, and more. No matter where you are in the process, if you’ve been accused of a crime or have questions about how the law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, skilled representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this this convenient online form for a free initial consultation.