A bill to support one of the most vulnerable groups of children in Kentucky – children with an incarcerated parent – cleared its final hurdle this week. The Kentucky Senate concurred with changes made by the House, and SB 120, sponsored by Senator Whitney Westerfield, is now off to the Governor’s desk for signature.

SB 120 emerged from the work of Governor Bevin’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council that was created to identify policy solutions to improve Kentucky’s criminal justice system. Kentucky Youth Advocates strongly supports the reforms, because many Kentucky children have experienced having a parent incarcerated.

KIDS COUNT data shows that Kentucky has the highest percentage in the nation of children who have had a parent incarcerated, at 13% of children. That’s nearly double the national percentage, and it impacts about 135,000 children in the Commonwealth.

When a parent is incarcerated, it impacts the children and family left behind in many ways. There is often a significant economic impact when one of the breadwinners in the family is gone and a greater risk of the children ending up homeless. Having a parent incarcerated often impacts a child’s educational attainment., especially when the mother is incarcerated, which puts children at greater risk of dropping out of school. The strain can also increase depression and anxiety in children.

When a parent returns home, their children need them to earn a living and support the family. Because of things like having an interrupted work history or lacking training or work experience, parents returning home often work fewer weeks in a year and earn less than their counterparts without a record. With SB 120, parents who served their time will leave incarceration better prepared to reenter the workforce and become a productive, contributing member of their community.

SB 120 represents a strong step to helping the children whose parents are leaving incarceration. With this bill, parents will have a path forward as they return home to find work and support their family. The bill includes components like work release, work opportunities within prison, and changes in licensing requirements, which all add up to the parent having a chance to learn skills, get work experience, and not have their history automatically disqualify them from getting a professional license.

While it can be easy to overlook the impact on children of criminal justice changes, more than 1 in 10 Kentucky children will be impacted by SB 120. We thank Governor Bevin and Senator Westerfield for their leadership and the General Assembly for their support of these improvements to Kentucky’s criminal justice system.

Senator Whitney Westerfield, Secretary of the Labor Cabinet Derrick Ramsey, and members of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition.