A Shared Sentence: Indiana ranks #2 for kids with parents serving time

Published: Apr. 25, 2016 at 6:32 PM EDT
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An estimated five million children in the U.S. have had a parent serving jail time; something the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, Md. is calling "a shared sentence."

It's alarming...Indiana comes in second for the highest rate in the country of kids who have had, or currently have an incarcerated parent. The Hoosier state follows Kentucky, which leads with 13 percent.

According to a report released Monday from the Annie E. Casey foundation, this doesn't just mean parents are serving time, but the children they leave at home are stuck with a different kind of sentence.

Eleven percent of kids in Indiana have dealt with their mom or dad spending time behind bars.

"It's very rare that you hear anybody talking about what's going on with children and families; what's happening with those kids that have got parents who are incarcerated," said Laura Speer, Associate Director of policy reform and advocacy, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A sentence that Speer says has huge implications for children.

"Having a parent in prison creates a big vacuum in a child's life and they really feel a sense of real isolation," said Speer.

Financially and emotionally.

"Most of these families are scrambling to cover basic needs to begin with, and on top of that you add legal and court fees and then there's a financial impact when that adult is taken out of the family and put into prison," said Speer.

The Families First Center in South Bend deals with cases like this on a daily basis.

"Approximately 80 percent of our families experience incarceration of a parent," said Peggy Rose, Executive Director, Families First Center.

Rose says this often increases a child's anxiety.

"Especially if the arrest happened in front of the children, they can have a lot of fear to deal with," said Rose.

In some cases leading to behavioral outbursts, depression and social struggles.

"One of the main factors on how well the child is going to do while the parent is incarcerated is if they have a caregiver that they're securely bonded with," said Rose.

However, she says if a caregiver is absent, this could negatively affect the child for the rest of his or her life.

"We might have a baby or a toddler who doesn't even remember their parent," said Rose.

"When it happens when the child is younger, it is actually even more devastating impacts on that child and on that family," said Speer.

As a result the report released Monday outlines recommendations for policymakers to recognize the problem, and take action.

Three recommendations are highlighted. First, to ensure kids are supported while parents are in jail, and once they return.

It also suggests communities provide better jobs for people released from prison. Finally, it encourages leaders to strengthen specific communities affected by high percentages of incarceration.

To read the full report, click


South Bend Dismas House Executive Director, Maria Kaczmarek spoke with me on the phone Monday. She says that of the children who have parents in jail, 70 percent of those kids end up incarcerated at some point as adults. Adding that this is a vicious cycle these groups are working to break.