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A Shared Sentence: the devastating toll of parental incarceration

Casey Incarceration Report_Nebraska_Total Number

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommended to state and local policymakers the adoption of policies that would help millions of children and families nationwide deal with the emotional and financial instability inflicted as a result of having an incarcerated parent, in the policy report A Shared Sentence: the devastating toll of parental incarceration on kids, families and communities.

More than 41,000, or 9%, of kids in Nebraska have a parent who has been or is currently incarcerated. While punishments for a committed crime is necessary, our country’s practice of mass incarceration is flawed and costly, and the impacts of incarceration extends beyond the adults to their children effectively breaking up families. The absence of a parent to incarceration is felt economically with the lost source of income or child support as well we socially with the stigma associated with having a parent who is incarcerated. The creation of this unstable environment can have lasting effects on a child’s development and well-being which can multiple depending on where the child lives.

Nebraska’s 9% rate of¬†children experiencing parental incarceration is one of the highest in the nation. Further, racial disparities of incarceration are even more distressing. Nationally, the likelihood of black or Hispanic kids having a parent incarcerated is 7 and 3 times greater than their white, non-Hispanic peers, respectively. These disparities in access to opportunity based on the color of a child’s skin show how imperative it is that we target intervention and investments towards families who are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration.

The Casey report makes several recommendations to ensure that children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return to promote economic and family stability and opportunity. These recommendations are:

  1. Ensure children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return.
  2. Connect parents who have returned to the community with pathway to employment.
  3. Strengthen communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by incarceration and reentry, to promote family stability and opportunity.

Undoubtedly, people who break the law need to face the consequences, but these consequences are not isolated to the lawbreaker – they are father, mothers, partners, caregivers, breadwinners and members of their communities. Their children inevitably end up sharing their sentence. Every child deserves an equitable opportunity for lifetime success regardless of who their parents are. The incarceration of a parent should not doom a child to a lifetime of challenges and closed doors.

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