It’s no secret that the United States takes a tough stance on crime. This is evident in our high incarceration rates. According to recent statistics, the number of children with at least one incarcerated parent is 2.7 million. That figure balloons to 10 million when you include children with parents who have been incarcerated at some point in their lives.
These children are at a much higher risk to struggle in school, have behavioral problems, and ending up in the criminal justice system themselves. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and poverty are also more prevalent in homes where a parent has been incarcerated.
You might think that, because you or your family members haven’t been incarcerated, you aren’t affected by this issue. But this affects us all. If we don’t do something to help these children, we’ll continue to see high rates of recidivism and a revolving door of incarceration—which costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
So, what can you do to help?
We provide five evidence-based suggestions to get you started.
Check Your Biases
No one ever thinks that they’re biased. But we all carry around biases, whether we realize it or not. It’s important to check your biases at the door when working with children of incarcerated individuals.
At the same time, many of us harbor negative stereotypes about people who have been incarcerated. These mistaken beliefs can reveal themselves in microaggressions, such as keeping a close watch on your wallet when you see someone with a prison tattoo or assuming that someone is uneducated because they have a criminal record.
Challenge these assumptions and others like them when they come up. It’s the only way to create an inclusive environment where everyone can feel safe and respected.
Volunteer With or Donate to an Organization That Supports Children of Incarcerated Parents
You can help by volunteering your time or donating money to one of these organizations. If you have experience working with children, consider becoming a mentor. You can make a big difference in a child’s life by being a positive role model and offering support and guidance.
Mentor a Child From an Incarcerated Parent
Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to support a child from an incarcerated parent. A mentor can provide guidance, support, and friendship to a child who might not have anyone else to turn to.
If you know a child from an incarcerated parent, you can offer to be their mentor. You don’t need to be part of a formal program to make a difference in a child’s life.
Mentoring doesn’t strictly have to be about providing emotional support. You can also help a child with their homework or teach them a new skill, like how to play soccer or cook a meal. You can also help them connect with their incarcerated loved one by facilitating visits or writing letters.
Keep in mind that these children might come from difficult home situations. They might be dealing with a lot of anger, sadness, and fear. It’s important to be patient and understanding—you should also know when you’re out of your depth and need to seek professional help.
Support Policies That Provide Second Chances for Ex-Offenders
While tackling individual instances of bias and prejudice is important, we also need to address the systemic issues that lead to mass incarceration in the first place. One way to do this is by supporting policies that provide second chances for ex-offenders.
You can support these policies by contacting your representatives and letting them know that their stand on these issues is important to you. You can also support organizations that are working to change these policies.
Advocate for a Fairer Justice System
This means advocating for things like prison reform, sentencing reform, and an end to cash bail. It also means working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and investing in early childhood education.
By Sophia Young