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Children of Incarcerated Parents

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is committed to facilitating positive interactions and outcomes for these fragile and impaired parent-child relationships while maintaining ongoing efforts to support and strengthen them. And we want to keep them out of prison.

Across the nation, approximately 1.7 million American children have a parent incarcerated in state or federal prison.

We want to break this cycle and reverse the direction of prison-bound children in Pennsylvania.

Who populates our prisons? People without jobs, people without a high school diploma, people who believed they had no other avenue than criminal activity.

Children of Incarcerated Parents

Nationally, 1.7 million children have an incarcerated parent.

The ratio of children in poverty with an incarcerated parent is 1 in 7.

In 2011-2012, 7 percent of all children in Pennsylvania had the experience of an incarcerated parent.

At-risk youth are continuing to enter the justice system at alarming rates. High school dropouts, those from low socio-economic, high-poverty neighborhoods, especially children of color, have a 70 percent lifetime likelihood of being locked up.

Outcomes for children of incarcerated parents, research has suggested, directly correlate to the quality and quantity of time spent with their parents in prison, and are dependent upon the cultivation of healthy connections within their families.

In Pennsylvania Alone...

Approximately 81,096 children have a parent incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state prison, or roughly 3 percent of all minor children in the commonwealth. Approximately 65 percent of Pennsylvania state prison inmates have at least one child.

Approximately 75,747 children in Pennsylvania specifically have a father incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state prison. About 64 percent of male Pennsylvania state prison inmates have at least one child.

Approximately 5,349 children in Pennsylvania specifically have a mother incarcerated in a Pennsylvania state prison. About 72 percent of female Pennsylvania state prison inmates have at least one child. In other words, our 2,877 incarcerated female inmates have 2,048 children.

During the past two years, our female inmate population has increased by 120 inmates (a 4.4 percent increase), while our male inmate population has decreased by 947 (a 3 percent decrease). Current projections are that our female inmate population might continue to grow by another 230 inmates over the next five years (an 8 percent growth).

In 2011-2012, 7 percent of all PA children had the experience of an incarcerated parent.

Nationally, children of color are especially overrepresented in the number with an incarcerated parent.

• 1 in 7 children living in poverty have an incarcerated parent.
• 1 in 9 African American children, or 11.4 percent, has an incarcerated parent. African American children are 7.5 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent. 
• 1 in 28 Hispanic children, or 3.5 percent, has an incarcerated parent. Hispanic children are 2.7 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent. 
• 1 in 57 white children, or 1.8 percent, has an incarcerated parent.

The First Chance Act

Create legislation to authorize “The First Chance Act” that will allow the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to create a public charitable trust that benefits disadvantaged youth.

The trust will be funded not only by private, tax-deductible donations, but also through a small percentage of profits contributed from our large, public PA DOC service contracts, both existing and new.

Monies from the trust would be distributed by a board chaired by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for scholarships and programs to benefit at-risk youth in an effort to derail their involvement in the justice system.

Expansion of nurse family partnerships: a one-stop prevention program for low-income, first-time parents and their children.

Access early childhood learning: a broad range of education programs ne environments for young children of incarcerated parents.

Promotion of personal mentoring: relationships that build character, provide stability and offer real life guidance for work and education

Encouraging regular family visits: restoring and maintaining the vital relationship between incarcerated parents and their children.

Every time we talk about corrections reform, it really must begin with the realization that improving the chances for children, especially those in our most disadvantaged communities, is not just a great investment financially, but our responsibility and the true answer to improving criminal justice in America.

When we spend money on children and do it on the front end, keeping them out of jail and on the right path, we make the investment of a lifetime.

News Article

Pennsylvania secretary of corrections focuses on kids, early childhood education (LancasterOnline) 03.12.2017