Today, Kentucky Youth Advocates released a new Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children issue brief, Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children, which shows three out of every five inmates in state custody have children, impacting approximately 32,700 Kentucky kids. The brief highlights the prevalence of parental incarceration in Kentucky, the impact it has on children, and the criminal justice policy changes that could hold parents accountable for their actions in ways that allow them to still care for their children.

“Parental incarceration is a shared sentence, impacting the health and well-being of kids in the short-term and across their lifetime,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Children need their parents to care for them and work to meet their basic needs. Yet, at 15 percent, Kentucky has the second highest rate in the nation of kids who’ve been separated from their parent due to incarceration.”

Seventy-one percent of women incarcerated have children. With Kentucky’s trend of increasing female incarceration rates, the commonwealth can expect the number of children impacted by parental incarceration to climb.

“Tragically, children growing up without a father or mother at home, due to incarceration, is an all too common reality today — especially in Kentucky,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley. “This is one of the vital issues that must be addressed as we pursue comprehensive criminal justice reform. We must find innovative solutions to help keep our families whole and to preserve those sacred bonds. Otherwise, the Commonwealth will suffer the consequences for generations to come.”

According to the new brief, many parents – especially mothers — who are incarcerated are serving time for lower-level crimes. More than 60 percent of women locked up are incarcerated for the least serious category of felony. Nearly a third of incarcerated mothers are serving time for a drug offense, and another 25 percent are incarcerated for a property crime. Despite the high number of drug offenses, many women do not have access to substance abuse treatment because they are often housed in county jails without the same range of options as state prisons.

“The high percentage of female inmates with children means thousands of kids are impacted by the trauma of losing that maternal care, and for many children that also means going into our foster care system,” said Senator Julie Raque Adams, Chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to make changes to our criminal justice policies, especially in how we respond to lower-level offenses. We simply have too many children impacted by having a mother or father in prison in Kentucky.”

Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children outlines key recommendations for smart, pragmatic criminal justice policy changes that would hold parents accountable effectively while working to minimize the impact of parental incarceration on children:

  • When it is safe to do so, release low-level offenders prior to trial so parents can work and care for their children.
  • Focus incarceration on those who pose a risk or threat to public safety and, in conjunction, expand substance abuse treatment in the community.
  • Support strong families by maintaining connections during incarceration.
  • Allow formerly incarcerated parents to adequately provide for their families by minimizing financial barriers upon release.

“Through the commitment of Governor Bevin, Secretary Tilley, and key members of the legislature, Kentucky has become a national leader in reforming the justice system to recognize the long-lasting impact of incarceration and prioritize the outcomes of kids and families,” said Dr. Brooks. “Our leaders have the opportunity to continue that momentum through common-sense policy changes in 2018.”

Read Minimizing the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children here.