As Kentucky leads the nation in parental incarceration, advocates offer solutions to protect kids

02/14/2018 02:16 PM

Among incarcerated Kentuckians, three out of every five inmates have children, and that rate of parents behind bars could have profound impacts on children in the state, advocates warn.

Kentucky is currently ranked second in the United States for the number of parents behind bars.

For those 32,700 children whose parent is incarcerated they face short-term impacts, like housing stability and education, and there are also long-term impacts from the trauma children experience when they are separated from a parent.

Long term impacts include an increased risk for mental and other health issues.

Children with an incarcerated mother are more likely to drop out of school, according to Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, the chief policy officer for Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The Kentucky Youth Advocates issue brief details the hardships for the kids, and also the level of offenses which most often put mother’s behind bars in Kentucky.

From the report:

While overall 41.5 percent of Kentucky’s incarcerated parents with children are serving time for a Class D felony, that category of offense accounts for more than 60 percent of those mothers who are incarcerated. Many of these low-level felony offenses stem from nonviolent crimes. For example, 29 percent of incarcerated others are serving time for a drug crime, and another 25 percent are incarcerated due to a property crime. Less than 6 percent of incarcerated parents (both males and females) are locked up due to a serious violent crime.

With so many people serving time, and Kentucky’s prisons piling up, there’s a suggestion to look more closely at across the board changes to better protect children, families and the people of Kentucky.

“We absolutely believe that people need to be held accountable, it’s how we do that — knowing that there’s this impact on children, and knowing that we also have the second highest rate in the nation of females that are incarcerated,” Grieshop-Goodwin said.

Recommendations include:

  • For those who have committed less serious offenses, that don’t pose a public safety risk options like, administrative release and limiting the use of monetary bail are being proposed.
  • Expanding substance abuse treatment in communities to increase intervention for mothers with drug charges and for their children.
  • Kentucky could also slow the rapid growth of the state prison population by changing the dollar amount on what classifies as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
  • Supporting kinship caregivers with financial and other support to meet children’s needs, while a parent is incarcerated.
  • Family-friendly visitation policies, like facilitating transportation for families and creating child-friendly visitation centers in prisons are a couple of ways to strengthen family connections.
  • Suspension of child support orders so incarcerated parents do not accumulate debt during imprisonment. Establishing solutions for other fines, fees, and court costs, such as payment plans and delayed due dates, so parents can use the resources they have to better provide for their children.

Grieshop-Goodwin expects a bill will be filed this session which deals with the issues found in the report.


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