Children with incarcerated parents struggle with stigma

By Harry Goodall Jr.

Children with incarcerated parents find it hard to fight off the stigma.

There are an estimated 10 million children whose parents have been incarcerated at some point in their life, according to “Collateral Costs,” a Pew Charitable Trusts (PCT) report. One in nine Black children, one in 28 Latino children, and one in 57 White children have a parent incarcerated.

Such children have a greater chance of experiencing physical and mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, according to “Shared Sentence,” a published report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Families that are financially unstable are more likely to be homeless. Studies support that children of incarcerated parents are three times more likely to become incarcerated also.

Seventeen-year-old Luna Garcia is one of those children who has chosen not to tell people her dad’s in jail. She was interviewed for a San Francisco Chronicle article by Jill Tucker called “Parent in Prison— Child a Captive.”

“It becomes something you can use against me,” Garcia said. “It starts becoming a label you carry around with you.”

She was asked by a teacher, who knew of her father’s situation, if she was trying to follow in his footsteps because of a classroom disruption.

The article says that most children of incarcerated parents (CIPs), who call themselves sips, don’t want to talk much about their lives. Those willing to talk can be guarded, mistrustful and sometimes angry. No one understands what CIPs go through, they say. And no one seems to want to.

“I’m way more things than a CIP,” Garcia was quoted as saying. “It’s not all we have to offer.”

Garcia has a father who served time in San Quentin State Prison, and she aspires to become a writer or a politician.

There is a debate on whether children should visit parents while in prison.  Some warn against it, noting the potential trauma of seeing parents in inmate attire amid armed guards. A growing consensus of experts considers the interaction beneficial to children and the locked up parents.

“It is an enormously important issue, but it remains a subtext to this country’s ongoing epidemic of mass incarceration,” the article quotes State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, as saying.

“In this rush to lock them up, three strikes and you’re out, we’ve been completely blind to the impact on families,” Leno added.

Studies show that such children have a harder time being productive and leading successful lives. Only 15 percent of kids with an incarcerated father and 2 percent of those with an incarcerated mother earn a college degree, according to Pew statistics.

“Family is about love, commitment and dedication,” said school co-director Jessica Huang at Garcia’s high school graduation.  Garcia graduated high school, and is now attending City College of San Francisco.

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