New Report Shows that Incarceration in Georgia Separates Nearly 200,000 Children from a Parent

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Nearly 200,000 children in Georgia, or approximately 8 percent of the child population, have been separated from a parent due to incarceration, according to A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Parental incarceration is plunging poor families and communities deeper into poverty, and is cutting deep into the state budget.

“Children who are affected by parental incarceration contend with an upheaval of family structure, erosion of safety and stability, and poverty as a result of income disruption,” said Rebecca Rice, Georgia KIDS COUNT coordinator. “These children are already living in struggling communities and 65 percent of families with incarcerated parents cannot cover basic needs, like food, utilities, and rent. We also learned from the Casey Foundation’s report that the psychological effects on children from these broken relationships can be as traumatic as the physical and economic ones.”

The economic impact on the state of Georgia is striking as well, Rice said. In 2010, the United States spent $80 billion on corrections expenditures, the vast majority of which was paid by state and local sources. In 2011 alone, Georgia spent $1 billion on incarceration.

“Research shows that if we help support recently released prisoners when they re-enter their communities, we can reduce the impact of parental incarceration on children and reduce the impact on the state budget,” said Rice. “Removing barriers to reentry into civic life after prisoners have served their time can help prisoners successfully integrate back into their communities and mitigate the negative effects of incarceration on the children who are left behind.”

Some best practices can be perceived as counter-intuitive, but these actions help to reintegrate fractured families. For example, suspending child support orders on incarcerated parents and lifting housing bans on recently released offenders are policy measures that can be beneficial to children of parents who have been incarcerated.

More straightforward ways to support families affected by incarceration include providing family counseling to families with incarcerated parents and people facing reentry and giving prisoners access to education while serving their sentences. A program to educate prisoners exists in Philadelphia, and it reduced the city’s recidivism rate by 50 percent – a figure that also corresponds to a reduction in crime and significant money savings for the government.

“Supporting adult prisoner reentry is really about encouraging stable, self-sufficient families and strong communities, ultimately improving outcomes not just for vulnerable children but for all Georgians,” said Georgia Family Connection Partnership executive director Gaye Smith. “Communities need healthy, productive citizens so that they—and our state—can prosper.”

Over the past five years, Georgia’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform has been introducing recommendations to address Georgia’s prison population—among the biggest in the nation—and its high recidivism rate. Much of this work became law with the recently passed Senate Bill 367, which includes the following policy reforms:

  • Updating the First Offender Act to strengthen protections against employment discrimination to improve adult prisoner reentry;
  • Lifting the food stamps ban for felony drug offenders to help with reentry;
  • Updating the juvenile code to address an unintended consequence of the juvenile courts’ expanded use of secure detention for a younger population than such facilities are equipped to serve; and
  • Requiring “the use of educational approaches to address a student’s problematic behavior in school and improving the fairness of school disciplinary proceedings.”

Finally, during the 2015 legislative session, Georgia banned employers from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal status in the initial application phase, which the Casey report strongly encourages. This eases the path to employment for former prisoners and supports them in becoming productive members of the community once again.

“Georgia’s criminal justice reform is taking steps to address the impact of incarceration both on prisoners re-entering public life and on their families and communities, many of whom have struggled in the absence of a parental figure,” said Rice. “Programs, services, and policies that ease reentry and support families are critical for reducing incarceration rates, reducing recidivism rates, and decreasing the emotional and development burden on children and financial strain on the state budget.”

Download the report and detailed recommendations.

Rebecca Rice
Georgia KIDS COUNT Coordinator
404-507-0488
[email protected]

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director
404-739-0043
[email protected]

For interactive statewide data, visit Georgia KIDS COUNT at gafcp.org/kidscount.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public-private partnership created by the State of Georgia and investors from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families. Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that impact Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities. Georgia KIDS COUNT is funded, in part, through a grant from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. For more information, visit aecf.org.