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Families of inmates

Nearly three million children under the age of 18 have a parent in jail or prison, and millions more have experienced their parents being arrested. Due to their parent’s criminal justice involvement, a growing body of research indicates that these children often experience trauma, family disruption, and the loss of their primary caregiver, which can lead to financial hardship, residential instability, and an array of emotional and behavioral problems.

In response, several community-based organizations and government agencies across the country have implemented programs and practices aimed at reducing this trauma and mitigating the potentially harmful outcomes associated with parental criminal justice involvement. The Urban Institute and the National Institute of Corrections hosted a live webinar highlighting these promising and innovative programs and practices.

This webinar is four sessions:

  1. Parental Arrest Protocols—"Focuses on protocols that police departments can use to manage the arrest of a parent to minimize the trauma and harm to their children";
  2. Family Impact Statements—"Focuses on how probation departments can use family impact statements in their presentence investigation reports to account for the needs of family and children";
  3. Family-Focused Jail Services—"Focuses on a few family-focused programs and services that jail administrators can offer to parents in their jails to help them stay connected to their family and children";
  4. and Successful Collaboration—"Provides information on how to collaboratively think about and address the many issues facing children of incarcerated parents, using a diverse group of interested stakeholders".

Presentation slides for these sessions are provided. Access is also provided to four publications that complement the webinar sessions and aim to guide criminal justice organizations and stakeholders in developing and implementing promising practices for children of justice-involved parents. The products include three toolkits on parental arrest policies, family-focused jail programs, and family impact statements, as well as a framework document that synthesizes what we have learned about promising practices and provides information about the context surrounding children and their families.

The products provide key challenges and recommendations for the field and help organizations and stakeholders

  1. understand the importance, scope, and effect of the issues facing children of justice-involved parents;
  2. learn how to talk about these issues with their constituencies; and
  3. appreciate how changes in practice can make meaningful differences by strengthening the relationship between children and their parents and reducing the trauma children experience when their parents are arrested, detained, and sentenced.
Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents: Arrest through Pre-Adjudication [Webinar] cover

“More and more transgender parents are fighting to protect their relationships with their children in the face of custody challenges. Yet they face significant obstacles. Parents who have come out or transitioned after having a child with a spouse or partner have seen their gender transition raised as a basis to deny or restrict child custody or visitation. Transgender people who formed families after coming out or transitioning have faced challenges to their legal status as parents, often based on attacks on the validity of their marriages … The purpose of this guide is to provide information to transgender parents and their attorneys to help them protect parent-child relationships and assist them when faced with disputes over child custody issues” (p. 5). Sections of this report address: protecting against challenges to the parental fitness of transgender parents—overview of the case law, recommendations for parents prior to transitioning or coming out to their families, and advocacy suggestions for parents and their lawyers if faced with custody dispute; protecting against challenges to the legal parental status of transgender parents—the legal landscape, recommendations for parents to secure their status as legal parents, and advocacy suggestions for parents and their lawyers if faced with a challenge to legal parentage; and who to contact if facing a problem. Appendixes provide: an overview of case law regarding transgender parents; and sample expert testimony related to transgender issues.

Protecting the Rights of Transgender Parents and Their Children: A Guide for Parents and Lawyers Cover

"More than 2 million children have a parent currently in prison or jail, and 10 million more have experienced incarceration of one or both parents as some time in their lives. The incarcerated parent, the child, and the child’s caregiver all suffer as a result of the separation. The longer the parent and child are separated, the more likely they are to grow apart. The imprisonment of a parent often causes a family’s financial and living situations to get worse … Studies have shown that communication and interest in each others’ lives reduces the harmful effects of incarceration and the child’s chances of following his parent into prison. Staying connected helps both the child and the offender to grow, learn and change. After the offender’s prison time is served, the move back to the home is easier for both the parent and the children when communication remains constant. There is less fear, less “catching up” to do, less bad feelings, more communication, more helping the child to heal, and less chance of continuing the cycle of incarceration" (p. 2). This handbook is designed to help the caregiver and child(ren) deal with an parents' incarceration. Sections contained in this publication are: introduction; coping with incarceration; helping children stay connected; encouraging children's education; family finances—child support and health insurance; returning home; and help for incarcerated parents and caregivers.

Reaching In: A Handbook for the Families of Parents Incarcerated in Wisconsin cover

This article describes the Read to Me program. Read to Me, "is one of at least half a dozen around the country that helps incarcerated parents connect with their children at home by making a recording of themselves reading a children’s book. The parents are allowed to send the book and recording to their child, and they can often read the book during an in-person visit as well" (p. 46). This program received the coveted Marshall Cavendish Excellence in Library Programming Award. This article includes "Tips for Starting an Intergenerational Reading Program for Incarcerated Parents" and "Resources for Families Dealing with Incarceration".

Reading on the Inside: Programs Help Incarcerated Parents Connect with Their Children through Books Cover

"Law enforcement agencies will find the information contained in this document highly instructive as they seek to enhance their policies and procedures and gain understanding about the trauma children experience when law enforcement carries out its investigative and arrest responsibilities." This publication is made up of two parts. "Concepts and Issues Paper": introduction; definitions; the number of children affected; legal responsibilities of law enforcement for children of arrested parents; and policy and procedures—overarching policy, interagency coordination and training, per-arrest planning, making an arrest, appropriate placement of a child, booking, follow-up visits, and documentation. "Model Policy": policy; purpose; definitions; and procedures.

Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents Cover

This collection of handbooks is an excellent resource for anyone who cares for or works with children who have incarcerated parents. These “handbooks include information, tools, and resources, as well as vignettes and quotes to illustrate real-life examples. They are written for a diverse and broad audience who significantly touch and influence children’s lives, including caregivers of all kinds, professionals, volunteers, family members, and other caring adults. While the handbooks focus on children and the criminal justice system in New York State, they are designed to be helpful for those in other states as well.” “Volume I: The Experiences of Children of Incarcerated Parents” by Margaret Brooks, Elizabeth Gaynes, Tanya Krupat, Dana Lemaster-Schipani, and John Hunt covers what is known about these youth, their common feelings and emotions, criminal justice system stress points, individual experiences, diverse responses, and what you can do. “Volume II: Maintaining and Strengthening Family Ties for Children of Incarcerated Parents” by Elizabeth Gaynes, Tanya Krupat, Dana Lemaster-Schipani, and John Hunt discusses why relationships between children and their incarcerated parents need to be maintained, supporting positive visiting experiences for these children, the power of conversation, and facilitating communication between children and their incarcerated parents. “Volume III: Information for Non-Parent Caregivers of Children with Incarcerated Parents” by Gerald Wallace, Rachel Glaser, Michelle Rafael, Lynn Baniak, Tanya Krupat, Dana Lemaster-Schipani, and Elizabeth Gaynes provides background information about non-parent caregivers, and explains how kin become caregivers, custodial arrangements—a caregiver’s options, visiting and co-parenting, financial assistance, and health care, educational assistance, child care, and other services.

Stronger Together Cover

The experiences of female inmates, their children, and the present caregivers of those children are examined. Any review of the problems women inmates and their children experience should include this report. Three sections are contained in this document: female prisoners—demographics, criminal histories, family histories, mental health histories, drug abuse histories, children, and concerns and recommendations from the women; caregivers of the children of female prisoners—backgrounds of the incarcerated mothers and the children, experiences of the children at the time of arrest, problems experiences by the children, contact between child and mother, and problems experienced by caregivers; and summary and recommendations.

Study of Incarcerated Women and Their Children Cover

The influence visitation has on the recidivism of visited prisoners is examined. Sections of this report include: research summary; introduction; prison visitation policies; reentry and social support; prison visitation research; methodology; results for descriptive statistics, impact of visitation on time to first felony reconviction, impact of visitation on time to first revocation, and impact of inmate-visitor relationship on time to first reconviction; conclusion; and implications for correctional policy and practice. Visitation has a significant effect on recidivism. “Any visit reduced the risk of recidivism by 13 percent for felony reconvictions and 25 percent for technical violation revocations, which reflects the fact that visitation generally had a greater impact on revocations. The findings further showed that more frequent and recent visits were associated with a decreased risk of recidivism” (p. 27).

The Effects of Prison Visitation on Offender Recidivism Cover

Anyone involved with programming for incarcerated youth should read this report. It can be used to bolster ones attempt to develop family visitation programs in your agency. The positive impact of family visitation on the behavior and school performance of incarcerated youth is examined. The number of behavioral incidents decreased as visits increased. School performance for those who had frequent visits was 4.6 points higher than those youth who were not visited. “Despite the benefits of family contact for youth, families often face significant barriers when visiting incarcerated loved ones. Preliminary findings from this project revealed that distance was a significant barrier to visitation; youth who were placed far from home were less likely to receive an in-person visit while incarcerated. Because there are many factors involved when making placement decisions, facilities can benefit immensely by changing their visitation policies to encourage frequent contact between family and incarcerated youth” (p. 4).

The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance: Findings from the Families as Partners Project Cover

"The need for trauma-informed juvenile justice systems to recognize and respond to trauma as it affects caregivers, to act in collaboration with all those who are involved with the child, to make resources available, to address family trauma and strengthen family resilience … makes it absolutely critical that such a system partner with families. It is only through fully embracing family engagement that a juvenile justice system can become a truly trauma-informed system. Family partnership is the means through which the necessary relationships can be built, and through which policies, practices, and agency culture can be shifted to create a trauma-informed system" (p. 2). Sections cover: what family engagement is; why family engagement is a key element in trauma-informed juvenile justice; how family engagement supports a more trauma-informed juvenile justice system and vice versa; what a trauma-informed juvenile justice system that embraces family engagement looks like; SAMSHA key principles of trauma-informed approach and related applications for family involvement in juvenile justice systems; the challenges to family engagement in juvenile justice; recommendations to address these challenges; transformational bright spots.

The Role of Family Engagement in Creating Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice Systems Cover


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