By Judi Jennings, Ph.D.
Louisville Family Justice Advocates

Special Project art activity by Layfierre Mitchell

October is national SEE US SUPPORT US Month led by the New York-based Osborne Foundation to raise public awareness about the impact of parental incarceration on children. Parental incarceration is more than a temporary separation of child and parent because incarceration affects children differently than other forms of parental loss. Having an incarcerated parent carries strong social stigma and uncertainty surrounding the length of the separation.

Recognizing the impact of parental incarceration is especially important in Kentucky because our state has the second 2nd highest rate in the nation of children with a parent who is or has been incarcerated.  The Special Project, a key partner in the newly formed Louisville Family Justice Advocates, partnered with Metro Louisville Center for Health Equity to conduct a Health Impact Assessment of how parental incarceration harms children’s health in Jefferson County.

The report concluded that parental incarceration not only affects health but also that black and brown children are disproportionately harmed because of racial disparities in arrests, bookings and judicial releases.

In 2019, SEE US SUPPORT US Month focuses on the importance of child-centered visits at prisons and jails and removing barriers to visiting.  The Osborne Association presents research demonstrating how visiting benefits both children and families. In Louisville, the Special Project creates weekly art activities with children and families in the Visitors Lobby of the Metro Louisville Jail. There, the activity leaders see the strong benefits of family visits.

On a recent Sunday, one leader reported that, “a young boy made several pictures to show to his father during his visit.  Also, a mother and her toddler-aged daughter worked together on a weaving and a picture to mail to the child’s father.”

Despite the health and emotional challenges of having an incarcerated parent, children and youth are resilient. As Layfierre Michell, a gifted young artist, says,  “I didn’t choose this life, but I am rolling with it like a rebound.”

In Metro Louisville and across Kentucky and the nation, it’s time to recognize how parental incarceration harms children and advocate for them and their families.