Ann (contd)- Exec Director of PA Prison Society

One of the invisible effects of incarceration is what happens to children when mom or dad or a loved one is incarcerated. This is an issue that we’re seeing more and more. But I don’t think any of the policy makers realize that if you incarcerate someone who has a family, if you incarcerate a mother, someone’s going to have to look after the children. That if you incarcerate a dad, someone is going to have to pick up where the dad is no longer able. It’s an issue that is growing because the numbers of people who are incarcerated is growing. We estimate that at least 200,000 children in the state of PA are impacted by incarceration. We estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 children in the Philadelphia area are impacted by incarceration. If you add parents who might be on probation or parole, or might be under other criminal justice supervision, we can guestimate that the number will be much higher. Nationwide, 10,000,000 children are impacted by the criminal justice system. 

Not all children are impacted negatively, but a number of them are. Many of them blame themselves for their parent(s) going to jail. Many of them end up going from relative to relative, house to apartment because there is no stable home anymore. We often see children who act out in school. Some of this is because they don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Some of this is the trauma that they experienced when the police officers arrested their loved one, their mother, their father. Some of this is just not knowing where their parent is or how their parent is doing. It’s basically impossible for children by themselves to visit their parents. They’re fully dependent on a loved one, their caretaker, whoever might be with them to get them to that visit if possible. But that visit alone might be limited for whatever reason that the prison might have that day. Or the parent might not be able to see them. There are a host of issues that just weren’t thought out when the system expanded to the point that it did. More and more jurisdictions, though, are looking at what happens to the children. I am happy to report that in PA we led an advisory group that was state wide through legislation and came up with 88 different recommendations for making lives of children better while their parents are incarcerated. It’s been a slow road as far as implementing the recommendations, but there have been some positive changes in the courts and in visiting. We are hopeful that there will be more changes during the next couple of years and continue to work on this important initiative.

Ann Schwartzman- Exec Director of PA Prison Society
The mission of the Pennsylvania Prison Society is to advocate for a humane, just and restorative correctional system, and to promote a rational approach to criminal justice issues. The Prison Society recognizes that constructive corrections helps to repair the damages of crimes to victims and communities. The equilibrium achieved through this restorative approach, which is both cost effective and humane, benefits and enriches all facets of society and advances the well being of the entire community.

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