Invisible Shackles - The Forgotten Children of Incarcerated Parents

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Our Advocacy Group would like to see legislation passed in New York State that targets the welfare of children of incarcerated parents. Our goal is to have a court appointed service coordinator that would address the social, emotional, educational, economic, physical and mental health issues children face when their parents or caregivers are incarcerated. According to studies this particular group of children would benefit from these types of services.

The problem:

• 54% percent of incarcerated men and women are
parents with minor children (ages 0-17), including
more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million
• More than 2.7 million children in the United States
have a parent who is incarcerated—1 in every 28
children (more than 3.6%) have an incarcerated
parent, compared to 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Twothirds
of these children’s parents were incarcerated
for non-violent offenses.
• One in 9 African American children (11.4%), 1 in 28
Hispanic children (3.5%), and 1 in 57 white children
(1.8%) in the United States have an incarcerated
• 4% of women in state prison, 3% of women in
federal prison, and about 5% of women in jail
nationwide reported being pregnant at the time of
their incarceration.
• A national study conducted in 1998 estimated that
of parents arrested, 67% were handcuffed in front
of their children, 27% reported weapons drawn
in front of their children, 4.3% reported a physical
struggle, and 3.2% reported the use of pepper
• In 2004, approximately 59% of parents in a state
correctional facility and 45% of parents in a federal
correctional facility reported never having had a
personal visit from their children.
• While many of the risk factors children of
incarcerated parents experience are primarily due
to problems of parental substance abuse, mental
health problems, or inadequate education, parental
incarceration increases the risk of children living
in poverty or experiencing household instability
independent of these other problems.

• Multiple studies show that while children whose
parents are involved with the criminal justice
system are exposed to more risk factors than other
children, research also shows that there is not
a universal risk factor for this population. These
children experience very diverse risks that require
tailored services.
• Studies show that, as the total number of these
risk factors increase, so too does the likelihood that
children will develop serious problems.

Some of the Particular Goals are:

• Bring together diverse stakeholders and perspectives to raise awareness and understanding of the impact of parental incarceration on children and families;• Sustain a network of individuals and organizations working to improve the lives of children of incarcerated parents;

• Help create systems change and reform policies and practices that affect children of incarcerated parents by making recommendations and turning these into realities; 

• Develop, expand, and advocate for programs that serve children with incarcerated parents; 

• Collect and disseminate information, research, and available data relevant to children and families affected by incarceration;

• Educate and train diverse professionals in the public and private sector working with children and families about the impact of parental incarceration;

• Support children as they seek to maintain relationships with incarcerated parents, and process their parent's incarceration; 

• Encourage and support young people with currently or formerly incarcerated parents to become leaders and advocates in the movement to transform their rights into their realities.


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