Parental Incarceration, the Community, and the Child

The impact of taking individuals out of a community and incarcerating them does not just affect the incarcerated individual but all the people that are involved in their lives: their children, family, significant others, friends, neighbors, employers, etc. 

Residents of neighborhoods with high incarceration rates endure disproportionate stress, since these communities face disrupted social and family networks alongside elevated rates of crime and infectious diseases. (The Atlantic: How Incarceration Infects a Community)

Only recently have scholars begun to re-image incarceration as an ecological variable rather than just a consequence to a behavior. Researchers used data from the Detroit Neighborhood Study and found that, after controlling for individual- and neighborhood-level factors including: history of incarceration, age, gender, race, personal income, trauma exposure, percentage of household incomes less than $25,000, and violent-crime rate –

“the effect of neighborhood-level incarceration on mental health is similar for individuals with and without a history of incarceration.” (Hatzenbuehler, et al., 2015)

These findings provide evidence that there is a relationship between neighborhoods significantly impacted by incarceration and mental health that is independent of whether or not an individual has experienced the prison system themselves. This highlights the proliferation of the impacts of incarceration and how incarceration can be detrimental to the livelihood of communities. These findings showcase the need for not only large systems change but also the importance of supporting those left behind by the incarcerated. Especially their children.

There is a cumulative emotional stress which results from high incarceration rates in a community. This long-term stress may generate feedback loops that can induce substance abuse and other behaviors associated with poor mental health, and in turn lead to future intergenerational incarcerations.

Children growing up in families impacted by incarceration have shortened life expectancies. The long-term health disparities that these children face can be mitigated through intervention programming in the communities and supported longterm by policy changes. (A Plague of Prisons).

The growing research regarding the adverse experience of parental incarceration and its potential to lead to future negative outcomes relies heavily on statistical outcomes from educational data, juvenile justice statistics, and caregiver perspectives (Dallaire, 2007; Grossman et al., Jenson, 1997; Krisberg & Temin, 2001; Reed & Reed, 1997;  1992;  Rutter, 1987; Werner & Smith, 1992). It is the belief of Every Single Kid, that if we are to learn anything about the need for policy changes, resource strengthening, and the needs of the child, we must first listen to the child; hear their story, learn from their insight, and work together to build bridges for their success.

In 2003 the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (SFCIPP) developed a Bill of Rights aimed at improving how children with incarcerated parents are treated and viewed. The Council on Crime and Justice wrote that “minor children of parents under some form of criminal justice control are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children.” The United States has just 4.4 percent of the world’s population but the highest percentage of the world’s incarcerated at 22 percent (Walmsley, 2013). Despite the highest incarceration rate in the world and an overwhelming population of children impacted by their parent’s incarceration, our society pays little prolonged attention to the children that live on the frayed edges of our society.

The SFCIPP developed the Bill of Rights for Children with Incarcerated Parents in response to the numerous court cases that have delineated the Rights of the Prisoner. Although The Rights of the Prisoner are limited and difficult to enforce, they are legally recognized (Prisoner’s Rights, n.d.). The children of these incarcerated individuals are guaranteed nothing yet are forced to forfeit their homes, schools, neighborhoods, public perception, self-image, safety, and their parents.

The Bill of Rights are highlighted on the main page of this website and set the foundation for which Every Single Kid was created. The eight Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents from the SFCIPP (2003) are:

  1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest
  2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me
  3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent
  4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent’s absence
  5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent
  6. I have the right to support as I face my parent’s incarceration
  7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because my parent is incarcerated
  8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

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