Giving Compass’ Take:
• Caroline Preston details the impact of coronavirus on parents’ imprisonment and its damaging effects for their children.
• How did the criminal justice system already drive a wedge through families before the pandemic? Why is it worse now? How can you support inmates and their families during coronavirus?
More than 5 million U.S. children have, or have had, a parent in prison or jail, according to one estimate. Oklahoma, despite recent steps toward criminal-justice reform, imprisons more women per capita than any other U.S. state. For children of incarcerated parents, the toll can be significant. They are more likely to fall behind academically, drop out of school and go to prison themselves. With instability at home, concentrating on coursework can be challenging, and kids sometimes face stigma at school.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, these family separations have deepened. When the virus began to spread, prisons closed to visitors, and the facilities became epicenters of the disease. Those raising the kids of incarcerated parents — foster parents, grandparents, extended family — are often older, and worried about their health. Adding nonstop child care and homeschooling to the mix has been difficult, and in some cases devastating.
Momentum for criminal-justice reform has grown in recent years, in part because of the harms that come to children from locking up their parents. This past November, Oklahoma commuted the sentences of 527 low-level drug and nonviolent offenders.
But the coronavirus pandemic has complicated reentry from prison. TEEM has had to pause its resume-writing and interview-prep classes for people leaving prison. And the pandemic has darkened the outlook for people searching for work. That’s a particularly troubling scenario in Oklahoma, where people often leave prison saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from court fines and fees, said Kris Steele, TEEM’s executive director.
“Even in the best of circumstances it’s so difficult and challenging,” he said. “I fear that we are setting up people to fail.”
Read the full article about how parents’ imprisonment affects their kids by Caroline Preston at The Hechinger Report.
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