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One out of every 14 children in Washington state has at least one parent who is or has been incarcerated. These 109,000 kids’ counterparts nationwide total 5.1 million. The number of children affected by incarceration in Washington is 6.5 times greater than the number of inmates in the state’s 12 correctional centers. The needs of these children, as they face increased risks and significant obstacles in life, are usually overlooked.
In a new KIDS COUNT report released today, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, the Annie E. Casey Foundation proposes recommendations that state and local policymakers should adopt to help the children and families of inmates.
While states spend heavily on corrections, few resources exist to support children and families who are left behind. These kids and families often struggle with emotional and financial instability as a result of having an incarcerated parent. Many children of incarcerated parents experience increased poverty and stress—which research shows can have as much impact on their well-being as abuse or domestic violence.
Findings from the report include:
The KIDS COUNT report offers common-sense steps officials can take to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience, as well as to address the disproportional toll of incarceration on families and communities of color. They include:
In Washington state, progress is being made to support the families of people who are incarcerated. This past legislative session, the House and Senate unanimously passed a law allowing formerly incarcerated adults to petition a court for a “Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity” that would become part of the adult’s record—showing potential landlords and employers that the former prisoner has fulfilled the conditions of their sentence and is paying off (or has paid off) any fines. This improves opportunities for housing and employment. House Bill 1390 was also introduced, which would have eased the financial blow of incarceration on a family experiencing incarceration. While the bill did not pass, its introduction is illustrative of building momentum in our state to reduce the impact of incarceration on families.
The confinement of a parent should not close the doors to opportunity for a child and their family forever. Washington state lawmakers should work alongside communities and families that have experienced incarceration to enact common-sense reforms that reverse the damage of incarceration on kids, families, and communities.