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A Shared Sentence Report @#$%& Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids
Date: December 13, 2016 09:36AM

A Shared Sentence Report @#$%& Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids

According to the new KIDS COUNT® policy report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 88,000 children living in Wisconsin have experienced the separation of a parent who served time in jail or prison. Nationally, more than 5.1 million children have a parent that has been incarcerated.

Latino children are five times as likely and African American children twice as likely, as whites to suffer the destabilizing effects of losing a parent to the system. In Wisconsin, the racial disparities are especially stark.

The percentage of kids with incarcerated parents varies dramatically between states, from a low of 3% in New Jersey to a high of 13% in Kentucky. In Wisconsin, 7% have experienced the effects of having a parent behind bars.

An analysis done by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families shows that Wisconsin taxpayers spend about $1.5 billion each year on corrections — significantly more than other states of similar size. Beyond the evident fiscal cost, the report found there are significant “opportunity costs” associated with the state’s out-sized reliance on incarceration, including how corrections costs reduce opportunities to invest in other important things like education, workforce development, and health care that can make Wisconsin healthier, more educated, and more equitable.

“It is all too easy to overlook the economic and psychological impact on a child when a parent is sent to jail or prison,” said Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, a Casey Foundation partner, in a press release containing state statistics. “Although disparities occur in all states, Wisconsin faces a deeper challenge that we must address — we incarcerate a larger share of black males than any other state. This adds to a cycle of poverty and inequity for our children of color that places them at greater disadvantage.”

“While momentum for criminal justice reform continues to build, we know progress will take time,” the report says. “But we also know children can’t wait — nor can we as a nation afford to let them and their parents founder, perpetuating poverty from one generation to the next.”

Several states are putting in place prison reform measures in an effort to reduce the staggering cost of locking up a larger percentage of citizenry than any other country in the industrialized world — although according to Taylor, Wisconsin lags in that effort.

The A Shared Sentence report observes, “There is no question that our country’s practice of mass incarceration is flawed, costly and in need of change. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed for better solutions, and several states have overhauled their correctional systems, favoring less costly alternatives for addressing nonviolent offenses, while maintaining public safety. Many advocacy efforts also recognize the wildly disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on people of color, especially African-American men, who are far more likely to be arrested and spend time behind bars. As a result, children of color are inevitably more likely to contend with having a parent in prison.”

The Casey Foundation is hoping their report will spark a discussion on how to give kids of incarcerated parents a better chance to succeed in life, concluding, “Policy debates about incarceration rarely focus on the burden borne by children and families. Theirs are stories of things lost: connections, jobs, income, homes — and hope. And communities, in turn, suffer from losing so many parents, whose absence leaves the economic and social fabric of their neighborhoods in tatters.”

Read the full report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities at: www.aecf.org/resources/a-shared-sentence.

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