A Christian organization that works for criminal justice reform is encouraging state and federal policy makers to help meet the needs of the 1.7 million children who have a father or mother behind prison bars by implementing the policies recommended this past week by the Council of State Governments.
Although the Council of State Governments acknowledged that much progress has been made to improve the well-being of children of incarcerated parents, the organization emphasized that much more can be made through policy changes and better coordination of services across agencies and systems.
"Improving the outcomes for these children requires comprehensive approaches that involve not only the children of incarcerated parents, but their current caregivers-whether a parent, grandparent, other relative, or foster care parents or facilities," the region-based forum stated in a report released this past Monday. "It also requires the commitment and cooperation of the many systems that provide services for, or come in contact with, incarcerated parents and their children."
In its report, Children of Incarcerated Parents: An Action Plan for Federal Policymakers, CSG offered 73 recommendations to provide a broad spectrum of consensus-based policy options to improve the outcomes for these children, who face substantial hardships and significant risk factors.
Pat Nolan, a vice president for Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, called the recommended policy changes "common sense" but also "very useful" for corrections officials, legislators and advocates for children and families.
One recommendation, for example, is to place parents in prisons as close as possible to their family and no more than 100 miles from their children. According to Nolan, 60 percent of incarcerated parents are housed more than 100 miles away from their previous residence.
"Evidence shows that maintaining the child-parent relationship during a parent's incarceration improves a child's emotional development and their behavior, and will help keep him or her from following their parent to prison," commented Nolan in an op-ed that appeared in the Huffington Post. "Yet, many prison policies make it difficult for family members to maintain contact with an incarcerated relative."
"We must begin changing legislation and corrections policies in order to break the cycle of crime by protecting, encouraging and supporting children whose parents are in prison," he added.
With the U.S. prison population having grown over the last 20 years, America currently stands as the nation with the the highest incarceration rate in the world.
CSG is hoping that their newly published report will make its way to the hands of policymakers and key constituencies and help facilitate actions that will make a difference in the lives of children of incarcerated parents.
As the nation's only organization serving all three branches of state government, CSG fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. The members of CSG include every elected and appointed state and territorial official in the United States.