More than 5.1 million U.S. children and 228,000 children in Michigan have had a parent who served time
LANSING, MICH.–A new report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation today revealed that 228,000 children in Michigan, or 1 in 10 children, have had a parent incarcerated, out of more than 5 million nationally. Only Indiana and Kentucky have a higher percentage.
According to the report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, Michigan has the fifth largest population of kids who have had a parent incarcerated, behind California (503,000), Texas (477,000), Florida (312,000) and Ohio (271,000).
According to the report, incarceration continues to devastate families of color in particular, as African-American kids are seven times more likely and Latino kids are three times more likely to have a parent incarcerated than their white peers. Research shows that having an incarcerated parent can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence.
“For too long, Michigan’s outdated corrections policies have been hurting our economy and our state budget and this report shows that they’re doing the same to our families and kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Having an incarcerated parent past or present is a traumatic experience that can lead to increased poverty, stress and unstable environments, affecting kids’ health and academic performance.”
While Michigan spends heavily on corrections, including more than it spends on higher education, few resources exist to support family members left behind. Although the issue of mass incarceration has received more attention from policymakers, advocates and activists recently, the needs of children who face increased risks and significant obstacles in life are usually overlooked.
“Having a parent in prison causes economic, social and personal strife for kids and there are currently little to no efforts to address this,” said Mary King, executive director for the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “There are more than a quarter of a million kids struggling with an incarcerated parent in Michigan, and that number is too high for them to continue to be disregarded. We have to address this issue from both sides—working to pass reforms to reduce incarceration in the first place, and addressing the necessary supports to help these kids through difficult times and connect their parents with the proper job and education training assistance upon their return.”
The report’s three policy recommendations are:
- Ensure children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return.
- Connect parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment.
- Strengthen communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by incarceration and reentry, to promote family stability and opportunity
“When people are sent to prison and taken away from their families, their kids are being punished, too,” said Guevara Warren. “There are many alternatives to incarceration that will better serve the individuals and their kids, but too many policymakers are more concerned with optics than logic.”
The report also reiterates the need for Michigan policymakers to tackle the following:
- Direct more funds toward prison education and training for in-demand jobs for incarcerated individuals.
- Minimize the negative effects of a criminal record once a parent has successfully reentered society through “ban the box” policies.
- Facilitate access for affected families to financial, legal, child care and housing assistance.
- Enable families impacted by incarceration to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs to cover basic needs and become self-sufficient, including revisiting the state’s limitations on assistance for certain convicted drug felons.
- Provide incentives to housing authorities and private landlords to allow people with criminal records to access safe, affordable housing.
“Our nation’s overreliance on incarceration has left millions of children poorer, less stable and emotionally cut off from the most important relationship of their young lives,” says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “We are calling on states and communities to act now, so that these kids—like all kids—have equal opportunity and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.”
The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.