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10 percent of Michigan children had parents imprisoned, report shows

Image of a prison fence
Shayan Sanyal/flickr

One in 10 children in Michigan had a parent incarcerated in 2011-12, according to a report released Monday.

The report says 228,000 children had parents in jail at some point during this timeframe. Over 5.1 million children nationwide had a parent imprisoned at this time. Most of these children are under 10 years old.

The report, titled “A Shared Silence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration for Kids, Families and Communities,” comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Michigan had the third-largest parent incarceration rate in the nation, behind Kentucky and Indiana. Five other states — Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Alaska — tied with Michigan for third-highest percentage.

The report found that the incarceration rate “creates an unstable environment for kids” and has “lasting effects on their development on well-being.”

Low-income children of color are the most affected by parental imprisonment, the report found. African-American children in the country are seven times more likely than white children to have had an incarcerated parent. Latino children are two times as likely than white children.

Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a statement that parental incarceration can have profound implications:

“For too long, Michigan’s outdated corrections policies have been hurting our economy and our state budget and this report shows that they’re doing the same to our families and kids.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

Michigan has been criticized for spending more on prisons than higher education. The Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency is one of several advocacy groups in the state aimed at changing state policies to reduce crime and prison populations across the state.

Mary King, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said in a statement that the state has done “little to no efforts to address” the impacts parental imprisonment has on children:

“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.”

The foundation provided three policy recommendations to lessen the impact of parental incarceration on children:

  • Maintain parent-child relationships while the parent is incarcerated. “Research shows preserving a child’s relationship with a parent during incarceration benefits both parties,” the report reads.
  • Provide pathways to employment to parents who have returned. “Providing sector-specific education and training — starting in prison — for jobs in high-demand industries such as information technology can help parents develop the skills necessary to resume their role as providers, while reducing their likelihood of returning to prison,” the report reads.
  • Stabilize and strengthen communities — specifically those most affected by incarceration and reentry. “Stronger, safer and healthier neighborhoods can reduce not only the likelihood of crime but encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” the report says.

Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, said in a statement that this report should result in policy change.

“Our nation’s overreliance on incarceration has left millions of children poorer, less stable and emotionally cut off from the most important relationship of their young lives. We are calling on states and communities to act now, so that these kids — like all kids — have equal opportunity and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.”

You can find the foundation’s report in full here.

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