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State To Cut Funds That Help Children Of Prisoners

Susan Campbell

September 06, 2009

want to address my Republican friends, who continually remind me that they stand for family values and fiscal responsibility while I, a knee-jerk liberal feminist Democrat, spend money like there's no tomorrow and support random couplings with strangers in the alley.

Say we had a program that supported family values and insured a safer tomorrow. Could we agree to fund it?

Without the aid of Megan Stanton, a Families in Crisis case worker, Tracey Ward is certain that her 12-year-old son would be in the juvenile court system by now. When his father committed a crime and was deported to serve time in a Colombian jail, the 12-year-old started to slide.

It's not something you talk about, having a parent in jail, though Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, says conservative estimates are that 17,000 Connecticut children have a parent in prison. Nationally, on any given day, roughly 2 million children have a parent in jail, says the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Family & Corrections Network. That organization says about half of those children are younger than 10.

The children of the incarcerated are subject to a host of risks, including depression, social isolation, aggressive behavior, poor performance in school, and, potentially, following in the family business at great cost to the rest of us, later. One study says the children of inmates are seven times as likely to follow their parents' footsteps than children whose parents avoid crime. Another study says having a parent in jail doubles the chances of a child being homeless, if only temporarily. Again, jails and shelters cost money, a lot of it. Even a liberal can think fiscally long-term.

Ward's son, like so many others, became the darling of his local gang recruiter, who was skilled at targeting a child in need of a father figure. But in stepped Families in Crisis, and that made all the difference, said Ward.

Do you see pork there? A slap in the face of Connecticut's taxpayer? Because that's what Gov. M. Jodi Rell called programs for children of the incarcerated, and then, in our state's funhouse-version of a budget process, she cut $1.4 million to those programs over the next two fiscal years.

Losing a parent to crime isn't like losing a parent to divorce or death, says Susan Quinlan, executive director at Families in Crisis, Inc. There's scant little family or community support at a time when a family needs it most. Make a prisoner serve his or her time, but ignore the family at our peril.

"The estimates are that 75 percent of inmates go home to family," said Quinlan. "They go home to our poorest families. Who's working with the child while that parent is away?"

Ironically, said Zimmerman, research says the more an incarcerated parent stays in contact with his or her child, the less likely the parent will return to jail.

"The children can heal the parent, sometimes," she said.

Brian Garnett, spokesman at the Department of Correction, says the cut won't affect existing programs, but the prison population is growing, and Quinlan and others worked hard to get more funding to accommodate the increased need.

"These people give us hope," said Ward. "I'm not the smartest lady in the world but I do know one thing: When somebody comes into your life and helps you, you can't lose that."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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