Demand Justice

To The Children of Incarcerated Parents

Why It needs Attention

2.7 million American children have a parent behind bars today.

The children of prisoners are guaranteed nothing. They have committed no crime, but the penalty they are required to pay is steep. They forfeit, too often, much of what matters to them: their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection. Their lives and prospects are profoundly affected by the multiple institutions that lay claim to their parents—police, courts, jails and prisons, probation and parole—but they have no rights, explicit or implicit, within any of these jurisdictions. This need not be the case.

The Current Situation

Little is known about what becomes of children when their parents are incarcerated. There is no requirement that the various institutions charged with dealing with those accused of breaking the law—police, courts, jails and prisons, probation departments—inquire about children’s existence, much less concern themselves with children’s care. Conversely, there is no requirement that systems serving children—schools, child welfare, juvenile justice—address parental incarceration.

What Rights They Need?

To Be Safe & Informed

Most police departments do not have protocols for addressing the needs of children when a parent is arrested. The resulting experience can be terrifying and confusing for the children left behind.

To Be Heard

When children continue to feel unheard within the institutions that govern their lives in their parents’ absence, their sense of powerlessness grows. There are aspects of children’s lives that must inevitably remain beyond their control.

To Be Considered

Law does not require judges to consider children when they make decisions that will affect their lives profoundly; A more sensible and humane policy would take into account the fact that will inevitably affect  children

To Be Well Cared

When a child loses a single parent to incarceration, he also loses a home. In the most extreme cases, children may wind up fending for themselves in a parent’s absence. Some will spend time in the foster care system.

To Speak, See Parent

Visiting an incarcerated parent can be difficult and confusing for children, but research suggests that contact between prisoners and their children benefits both, reducing the chance of parents returning to prison and improving the emotional life of children.

To Support Parent

Children whose parents are imprisoned carry tremendous burdens. Not only do they lose the company and care of a parent, they also must deal with the stigma of parental incarceration, and fear for their parent’s safety and well-being. 

Not To Be Judged

Incarceration carries with it a tremendous stigma. Because young children identify with their parents, they are likely to internalize this stigma, associating themselves with the labels placed on their parents or blaming themselves for their parents’ absence. 

To Lifelong Relation

Abiding family bonds are the strongest predictor there is of successful prisoner reentry. For children, sustained attachments form the building blocks for successful development. When this happens, children forfeit the most fundamental right of all

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