10 Percent of Ohio Children Have Had a Parent in Prison: Report

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A new report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation states that 10 percent of all Ohio children have had a parent in prison, either currently or in the past. That's the third-highest ratio of all U.S. states, behind Kentucky (13 percent) and Indiana (11 percent).

In all,  271,000 children in the state have experienced what the group calls "parental incarceration."

"These children feel the absence of that adult — whether it is several nights in jail or years in prison — in myriad ways, even if they weren’t sharing a home," the report states. "Incarceration breaks up families, the building blocks of our communities and nation. It creates an unstable environment for kids that can have lasting effects on their development and well-being."

In Ohio, the prison population continues to steadily rise — a 12 percent increase in the past decade — which translates, according to this report, into more broken families across the state.

The Columbus Dispatch adds some narrative context to the report's findings:

When Randi Keaton, 32, of Circleville was sentenced in October 2014 to one and a half years in prison for trafficking heroin, she wasn’t the only person to pay a price. Within months, her son, Diesel, lost both a mother and father to the criminal-justice system because of drugs.

Diesel, who is now 6, didn’t know the truth about why his parents disappeared. Keaton told him she was going away to “mom school” — a lie that didn’t seem so far from the truth, she says, because she really did need help pulling herself from the throes of drugs so she could be a good parent.

It wasn’t long before Diesel started acting out, causing difficulties for Keaton’s parents, who were caring for him. “I felt guilty, hopeless and worthless to him,” Keaton said.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation report outlines a number of steps that local governments can take to ameliorate the problem. For one, the group suggests that courts maintain contact with local social-service groups and alert them when sentencing might mean a child is left without a mother or father. States should also continue to fund prison education programs and push inmates — often low-income residents to begin with — toward job training. 

"Leaders can take action right now to support children from the moment their families come in contact with the criminal justice system," says Scot Spencer, the Foundation's associate director for advocacy and influence.

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