By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – When parents are sent to prison, there is a hidden toll on the children they leave behind.
In Washington state, 109,000 children have felt the devastating effects of an incarcerated mother or father, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Paola Maranan, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, says incarceration has a disproportionate effect on children in communities of color.
“The prison system is a destabilizer of children and their futures, particularly the futures of children of color,” she states. “We must reject the policies that lead to the over-incarceration of people of color.”
The report finds parents of Latino and black children are, respectively, three and seven times more likely to have been incarcerated than parents of white children.
The report suggests policies to help incarcerated parents with job training and education, so that upon release, mothers and fathers can better provide for their families.
Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation’s associate director for advocacy and influence, says two-thirds of families with a member in prison struggle to make ends meet. And if a father is incarcerated, household income drops by 22 percent.
“In some, that means that the parent or the guardian is making decisions about whether to pay rent or to provide food,” he points out.
The State of Washington already allows some people released from prison to receive food and financial benefits.
Spencer says the Casey Foundation is not only recommending policies for people who are incarcerated, but for their families as well.
“As much as we may focus on the issue of changing incarceration laws, while we’re doing that, we also look for ways to be supportive of the children and the families who are left behind during that incarceration period,” he stresses.
About 7 percent of Washington children have had a parent in prison.