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I used to write poetry
But haven't lately
Who would I show it to...?
About him in prison
About shame, About waiting
About loving someone
Anyway
---Anonymous 
Children do not understand the principles of incarceration. What appears obvious to them is that their parent is going, that they have been abandoned, rejected and therefore are not loved and are unlovable. The most common feeling for these children is that of rejection. The reason why a parent has left doesn't matter as much as that they left. The child has lost someone who may have been once a vital part of their day to day life.  Children feel guilt and feel that they are in some way to blame. They suffer from a lack of trust and feelings of betrayal. There is shame and much instability. They are now alone, at school, at home and even on special days like their birthday and holidays.
2.4 million American children have a mother or father in jail or prison right now. More than 7 million or one in ten of the nation's children, have a parent under criminal justice supervision- incarcerated, on probation or on parole. In some neighborhoods, the numbers are so high that children that some children will say that everyone has seen a mother or father locked up at one point or another.
The prison boom has robbed children of the presence of a parent. It has stripped poor communities of the most valuable resource they have left, familial bonds. Children are more and more relying on grandparents or a series of paid strangers to raise them.
Children of prisoners often suffer from anxiety and attention disorders, or from post-traumatic stress. They are likely to bounce from one caregiver to another; and may have  trouble at school. Often they are poor already and become even more poor when their parent is arrested.   These children have not committed a crime, but their penalty is steep. They often lose their home, their safety, their public status, their self image, their primary source of comfort and affection.
 ( adapted from the book,  All Alone in The World, Children of the Incarcerated by Nell Bernstein
When Andy's Father Went to Prison:  by Martha Whitmore Hickman
A story of a boy named Andy who is beginning 2nd grade in a new school, so that he can live closer to his father who is in prison. Great story to share with a child who has a parent in prison.
"American imprisons 756 inmates per 100,00- residents, a rate of nearly 5 times the world's average. About 1 in every 31 adults in this country is in jail or an supervised release. Either we are the most evil people on earth or we are doing something very wrong."  Senator Jim Webb
Children of Incarcerated Parents Facts:
  • On any given day, 1/5 million children in this country have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison.
  • There is a disparate impact on families of color, with African American children nine times more likely and Hispanic children three times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison.
  • Between 1995 and 2005, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. increased by 57% compared to 34% for men. 75% of incarcerated women are mothers.
  • 63% of federal prisoners and 55% of state prisoners are parents to children under age 18.
  • 46% of all imprisoned parents lived with at least one of their minor children, prior to entry.
  • The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is 8years old, 22% of children are under age 5.

There is not reliable research evidence to support the assertion that children of the incarcerated are many times more likely to be incarcerated as adults.

Maintaining contact with the incarcerated parent improves children's emotional response to the incarceration and supports the parent-child attachment.

( The Annie E.Casey Foundation)

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Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights
1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed of the time of my parent's arrest.
2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent's absence.
5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
6. I have the right to support, as I struggle with my parent's incarceration.
7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent's incarceration.
8. I have the right ot a lifelong relationship with my parent.
( adapted from The Prevention Researcher, April 2006  by Cynthia Timmons)

After Incarceration: Adolescent-Parent Reunification
Promoting Successful Reunification:
1. Encourage communication between the adolescent and incarcerated parent.
2. Send school reports to the incarcerated parent t keep them engaged in the youth's school progress.
3. Provide support to children and their caregivers so they can visit the incarcerated parent.
4. Provide youth with opportunities to interact with peers who have also experienced parental incarceration.
5. Encourage and support the caregiver.
6. Encourage the incarcerated parent to participate in prison programs, such as substance abuse treatment or parenting program, as needed.
7. Encourage realistic expectations about reunification.
( Gretchen Newby)

Key findings from research:
  • Most incarcerated parents want to maintain relationships with their children.
  • Single-parent, male headed families should be represented in the research, programs and policies.
  • There is no solid evidence that parental incarceration predicts later-life incarceration among prisoner's children.
  • The full range of risk factors affecting children of incarcerated parents must be recognized and accounted for in research, programs and policies.
  • The majority of children of incarcerated parents do not exhibit delinquency or antisocial behavior, but they do need extra help to succeed in school.
  • Prisoners who participate in prison-based parent education courses enhance their parenting knowledge.
  • Prison visiting policies and environments need to become more child-friendly to encourage parent-child contact during the incarceration period.
  • Decisions about parent-child contact during incarceration need to serve the best interests of the child.
  • The stigma surrounding the incarcerated parent, their family, and their children must be acknowledged and addressed in any program or service intended to engage them.
  • Programs and services for incarcerated parents and their children must acknowledge and included the non-incarcerated parent or caregiver.
  • More resources must be allocated to the evaluation of existing programs.  (Annie E. Casey Foundation- Focus on Children with Incarcerated Parents: An Overview of Research Literature)

Some quotes from real kids whose parent or parents is incarcerated:

"If you think it is hard to see one parent taken away to prison, imagine having both of your parents handcuffed at gun point and taken away."                                 " When I am at school and kids are talking about their dads, what can I say?"      "I was only six years old at the time but I will never forget that night. It was like yesterday. I was in bed and I heard a bunch of noise that scared me. I went to see what was happening and as I was walking down the hall way a cop was walking towards me with a gun pointed at me. He started screaming, 'Who is it? Who's coming? I hear somebody.'  Other cops came into the hall and I started screaming. The police officer picked me up and carried me out into the living room. I saw my mom and step-dad on the floor; the police had handcuffed them and had guns to their heads. I was crying so hard that they let my mom sit on the couch with me. The walls were all broken; I learned that they were looking for money and drugs inside the walls. The police too my stepfather and they left me and my mom alone, they only wanted him. We had to put a sheet up to cover the door because we had no door. We didn't sleep the whole night because we didn't know if the police would be back. All of this because of the drugs."

Contact Lisa: lisa@griefspeaks.com or 973-912-0177