When parents are sent to jail or prison, their children are more likely to deal with emotional problems and end up spending time in jail themselves at some point in their lives, according to a recently released study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The study found that about 177,000 children in Indiana — or 11 percent of children — had at least one of their parents locked up during their childhood by 2012. Kentucky was the only state with a higher rate of children with incarcerated parents, at 13 percent of children.
“For children and families, incarceration is not a one-time event but a daily reality that lasts well beyond a jail sentence or prison term,” the study found.
Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to deal with stress and depression and may have behavioral outbursts. Their academic performances suffer and they are more likely to drop out before graduating high school.
They also are more likely to live in impoverished neighborhoods and with extended family members who may not have the financial ability to care for them.
The impact is especially strong when mothers are locked up, the study found.
“These young children lose a parent’s support during their critical early years, a time when their families and communities should be laying the foundation for healthy development and success,” the study said. “Their bonds to that parent are weakened, or sometimes never formed, as distance may keep them from making regular visits.”
And problems continue even after a locked up parent is released from prison and struggles to find a job or acclimate to life post-incarceration.
“Time behind bars limits parents’ options for steady employment that pays well enough to support their kids,” the study found. “Their lack of training or work experience and an interrupted or illegitimate employment history, combined with typically low literacy levels and educational attainment, close the doors to most family-supporting jobs.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation study made three recommendations to help children of incarcerated parents:
- Provide support for children while their parents are locked up and after their parents are released.
- Help parents released from jail or prison find job opportunities in the communities where they live.
- Strengthen communities to help promote family stability and opportunity, especially for communities where a large amount of families are impacted by incarceration.