10 percent of Michigan kids have parents in prison

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Michigan is among the states with the highest number of children who have a parent behind bars, according to a report released Monday.

Some 228,000 children — one out of 10 — have had a parent incarcerated, according to Kids Count in its report “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration of Kids, Families and Communities.”

Michigan ranked fifth in the number of kids affected in 2011-12, the latest figures available. California was first with 503,000, followed by Texas, Florida and Ohio.

Michigan is tied for third with five other states — Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, new Mexico and Alaska — with 10 percent of its children impacted by incarcerated parents. Kentucky was first at 13 percent, followed by Indiana at 11 percent.

The toll on children, most of them African-American, can be devastating, the report’s authors said.

“Having an incarcerated parent past or present is a traumatic experience that can lead to increased poverty, stress and unstable environments, affecting kids’ health and academic performance,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“For too long, Michigan’s outdated corrections policies have been hurting our economy and our state budget, and this report shows that they’re doing the same to our families and kids.”

A family’s income can drop by as much as 22 percent when a father is incarcerated, according to the report. Also, the well-being of children in the household is as deeply affected as kids are by domestic violence.

“Having a parent in prison causes economic, social and personal strife for kids, and there are currently little to no efforts to address this,” said Mary King, executive director for the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.

“There are more than a quarter of a million kids struggling with an incarcerated parent in Michigan, and that number is too high for them to continue to be disregarded.”

Nationally, there are 5 million children across the country who have had a parent imprisoned. Most of them are younger than 10.

The report found African-American youngsters are seven times more likely to have had a parent behind bars and Latino youngsters are three times more likely than white children.

The report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said Michigan “spends heavily” on corrections and spends less than it should on higher education for inmates and resources to help the families inmates leave behind when they are sentenced.

King suggested passing reforms to reduce incarceration, addressing support efforts to help kids through difficult times and connecting their parents with the proper job and education and training assistance once they are released.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Corrections said the state offers programs for inmates and parolees. Holly Kramer said there are programs on parenting for inmates and job resources for ex-convicts. There are between 42,000 and 43,000 inmates in Michigan’s prisons.

“We believe re-entry starts on Day 1,” Kramer said. “We start planning what programming they’ll need that will help them stay home and stay out of prison.”

Besides unrestricted visitation for children of prisoners, there are other initiatives such as a reading program called Staying in Close Touch that allows a prisoners to record their voices reading a book to their child.

Kramer said the Michigan Department of Corrections also tries to help prisoners seek other resources and services such as housing and employment through its Detroit Reentry Center. The department is hosting a fair for returning parolees Thursday.

The report’s recommendations include:

■Ensure children of prisoners are supported while their parents and incarcerated and upon their return.

■Connect families and parents returning from prison with employment and housing resources.

■Strengthen communities, especially of former prisoners returning home, to help promote family stability and other opportunities.

■Reiterate the need for lawmakers and other policymakers to direct more money toward prison education programs and employment training for in-demand jobs.

■Work toward minimizing the impact of a criminal record once a person has re-entered society by supporting “ban the box” policies.


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