By Judi Jennings, Ph.D.

The National Survey of Children’s Health shows Kentucky ranks 3rd highest in the nation (at 12%) of children experiencing parental incarceration. Only Oklahoma and New Mexico rank higher, reflecting the underlying connections between incarceration and systemic poverty.

Louisville Family Justice Advocates (LFJA) recently co-led an Urban/Rural Learning Exchange, including a focus on parental incarceration, with two amazing allies: Dreama Gentry, Partners for Education at Berea College and Hasan Davis. Davis is a self-described “Hope Dealer,” former Juvenile Justice Commissioner, performing artist and, as is Dreama, trained in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s results-based leadership approach.

Our collaborative learning informs the actions YOU can make to mitigate the harmful impact of parental incarceration on children in your urban, suburban or rural community and help create a Commonwealth that values all kids.

1) Become aware of how parental incarceration harms children and disproportionately affects poor, black and brown children.

The first step is recognizing the full humanity of incarcerated persons as mothers, fathers and caregivers. LFJA’s core program, the Special Project, creates art with children and caregivers who have incarcerated loved ones in the Louisville Metro Jail. Arts Connect Eastern Kentucky, a Learning Exchange partner, creates healing arts directly with men and women in rural county jails, many of whom are parents.

You, too, can reach out to learn from directly impacted parents and children in your community to gain first-hand knowledge and create collaborative solutions.

2) Artmaking can be a superpower for connecting with children, families and incarcerated loved ones.

Creative expression transcends language, age, culture, race and ethnicity. Learn how to connect through creation by downloading a free copy of LFJA’s Special Project art activities for teachers and service providers.

Hasan Davis showed us how creating a “Bio Poem,” eliciting hopes, fears and self-awareness, inspired deeper relationships with system-involved young people and our Learning Exchange, too!

3) Connect the dots between parental incarceration and inequitable systems of power.

Designed by Daphne Walker

Hasan’s one-man living history play YORK: EXPLORER, portrays this enslaved African American’s important role in what is commonly called the “Lewis & Clark” expedition of the early 1800s. Hasan’s performance powerfully brings to life Kentucky’s long history of racial inequity that still shapes our lives and social systems today.

In 2017-18, the Special Project worked with Metro Louisville Center for Health Equity on a Health Impact Assessment of parental incarceration on children’s health in Jefferson County, which document significant racial disparities.

Now, LFJA uses a Health Equity Framework imagining health outcomes for children with incarcerated loved ones as visible leaves on a tree, connected to underlying root causes, like poverty and criminal justice, and planted in the soil of inequitable systems of power.

Learn more about LFJA and ways to take action at Consider adopting one or more of these actions for your community. If you do, please email me about your results. As Dreama and Hasan say, RESULTS COUNT!

Judi Jennings coordinates Louisville Family Justice Advocates, Inc. (LFJA) which creates art, builds knowledge and works to improve policies for families with incarcerated loved ones. Contact her at