By Danielle Hempel, MSSW Intern at Kentucky Youth Advocates
In 2015, See Us, Support Us was created as a month-long opportunity in October to build national awareness, visibility, and support for children whose parents have been incarcerated. Kentucky has the third highest rate in the nation of children who have experienced parental incarceration. In 2017-2018, 12 percent of all children in the Commonwealth had experienced the incarceration of a parent, exceeding the national average of 7 percent. In recent decades Kentucky has seen staggering growth in its female incarceration rate.
This growth is not only concerning because incarcerated females are not only more likely to have children, but it is also concerning considering the offenses that parents are being incarcerated for. The number of parents incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country for non-violent offenses, including drug crimes and property crimes, such as possession or shoplifting, has grown substantially due in part to stricter penalties for these types of offenses.
Whether a parent is incarcerated for a few days or several years, any period of separation can be detrimental to their child’s overall well-being. Adverse outcomes may include:
- children’s basic needs not being met as families struggle to compensate for lost wages;
- greater risk of homelessness due to increased levels of housing insecurity;
- relationship with incarcerated parent is weakened or not formed at all; and
- higher likelihood of dropping out of school or receiving poor grades.
Acknowledging these outcomes, it is essential to note that parental incarceration does not impact youth in Kentucky, or nationwide, equally. Youth of color are disproportionately harmed by parental incarceration and experience these adverse outcomes more frequently than their White peers. Data shows that Black and Latinx adults are more likely than White adults to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.
Communities of color have historically experienced discriminatory policies in criminal justice, as well as policies and practices in modern times that perpetuate disparities, such as a higher likelihood of arrest for drug crimes than White people who use drugs at a similar rate, more intense policing in high-poverty neighborhoods, as well as bias in arrest, pretrial detention, charging, and sentencing. People of color represent nearly 67 percent of the prison population but make up only 37 percent of the U.S. population.
To learn more about parental incarceration and support youth impacted by this issue:
- Service providers who work with children can review this tip sheet created by youth.gov.
- Review key strategies and tools identified by Casey Family Programs to support children and families affected by parental incarceration.
- Read this article from the National Institute of Justice discussing the consequences of parental incarceration on youth.
This post is part of the blog series, Intern Insights.