Letter to the Editor: Alleviating the Pain When a Parent Is in Jail

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From The New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re “Serving as a Role Model During a Father’s Absence” (The Neediest Cases, Dec. 21):

It’s nice to see young Jaylen benefit from the MentorCHIP program. But children whose parents are incarcerated need regular visits with their parents. Studies show that children’s emotional, scholastic and social adjustment improve when they have regularly scheduled visits to alleviate the pain of losing a parent.

Parents are placed in facilities so far from their children as to make visits expensive and difficult. Moreover, parents’ parole success is enhanced by visits, benefiting their children and the community, and we are missing that opportunity.

Even better, the state could work with community organizations to reduce incarceration in the first place. Affordable housing, employment, medical and mental health care, and violence prevention programs could reduce parental incarceration, which has been recognized as an adverse childhood experience that traumatizes and stigmatizes children.

Alternative sentencing could prevent the severe harms children and families suffer when a parent is incarcerated, and could better address the root cause of the offense. We would all do better to support children like Jaylen and challenge the cycle of incarceration if we promoted these policy changes.

GAIL T. SMITH

Director, Women in Prison Project

Correctional Association of New York

New York