The incarceration of a child’s parent does more than punish the adult. This fact was revealed by a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Mass Incarcerations and Children’s Outcomes is a sobering report outlining the damage the parent’s absence as a result of incarceration does to the development of the child. According to Mississippi Broadcasting 55,000 children in Mississippi are affected by the incarceration of one or both parents. To put that statistic into perspective, approximately 40,000 babies are born annually in the state, so the number of children affected by the incarceration of a parent exceeds the entire number of births in a year.
According to the Sentencing Project’s report in 2016, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons, more than half of the prison population in Mississippi is African American. The Sentencing Project also reports data stating two-thirds of inmates in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections who have been sentenced to life without parole (meaning they will die imprisoned) are African American. According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections more than 19,000 Mississippians are incarcerated as of June 2017. These figures do not reflect individuals serving time in local and some county jails.
Specific problems have been identified through national research on the development and school performance of children who have an incarcerated parent when compared to children without an incarcerated parent. The children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to have:
- speech or language problems—like stuttering or stammering
- declining GPAs
- a completion rate of fewer years of school than children of non-incarcerated fathers
- developmental delays
- worse physical and mental health conditions
- no permanent home
Unfortunately, every year more teachers are faced with the reality of teaching students to whom incarceration of a parent is part of the family dynamic. The EPI report suggests that if educators and criminal justice officials join forces to examine current state laws which determine the length of sentencing for minor drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes and increase the number and quality of programs that support social, educational and employment programs for released offenders, the negative impact of incarcerated parents on thousands of children could be minimized.
Nothing can replace the time a parent misses with their child, but everything can be gained when the parent makes a life choice that results in them becoming a positive and permanent presence in their child’s life.
By Dr. Cathy Grace