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ACEs in the Criminal Justice System

Discussion and sharing of resources in working with clients involved in the criminal justice system and how screening for and treating ACEs will lead to successful re-entry of prisoners into the community and reduced recidivism for former offenders.

Children of Incarcerated Parents

As a middle aged, naive and wide eyed kid with a new mission, that of addressing the many behavioral issues we faced in our Alaska Native Community, I focused on what I referred to as restoring responsible fatherhood to families. As the son of an absent father, I believed that the simple act of re engaging fathers with their children could have immediate results. Well, as I discovered, nothing is easy, especially in the field of corrections. I did start a fatherhood initiative for Alaska Native men in 2004. We have not had the results I thought we would achieve. But it was a fantastic learning opportunity.

Along the way, I met Charles Stuart, a dedicated Dad and former justice system worker. At the time, he was working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, an outstanding advocacy organization for fatherhood [LINK HERE]. He went on to found his own organization to work with incarcerated parents. It's an unfortunate fact of life that women are being incarcerated more frequently and working with parent for the benefit of children seems to be a logical step.

Having a parent in prison is, of course, one of the 10 ACE's originally studied. I wasn't fully aware of how the trauma was perpetrated on children fully until I read a report by the State of Oregon Department of Corrections that examined the facts. [LINK HERE] And children in many instances actually watched their parent arrested, put into handcuffs, pepper sprayed and were then taken themselves to a strange place. Visitation with incarcerated parents often took place behind windows, across a table or not at all. 

Children of incarcerated parents is a substantial problem that was addressed by Sesame Street. [LINK HERE] The trauma endures for what could be a considerable amount of time. After arrest comes the investigation and trial. If the parent is convicted, imprisonment and fines follow. After release, there is a period of probation and parole. Finally the stigma of imprisonment follow many parents for the rest of their lives, hindering job prospects, social relationships and how they are treated. 

Can we make life a little easier for children of incarcerated parents? I believe so.  But it is hard work and takes a long time to implement. The New Haven Police Department implemented a "Child Development -- Community Policing Program" [LINK HERE]. By understanding the impact on children for having a parent arrested, police officers and their partners can start by immediately mitigating that impact.

The benefits of parenting programs for incarcerated parents have been studied for quite some time. Oregon uses a program called Parenting Inside Out [LINK HERE] to work with incarcerated parents. The results are promising. According to this story from the Oregonian (2014) [LINK HERE], parents were less likely to be arrested after release (reduced recidivism).

Addressing issues faced by children of incarcerated parents is the right thing to do. Pathfinders of Oregon [LINK HERE] has done so for over a decade, with positive results. Children without interventions can be 5 times more likely than a child without an incarcerated parent to end up in prison themselves, according to data from California [LINK HERE].

When I referenced my early Naiveté about entering the fatherhood restoration movement, it was real. We seldom know what we need to before getting involved. Today, I see a systemic problem that started with childhood inflicted trauma, excess incarceration (especially for minority and poor parents) and little consideration about the impact of an incarcerated parent on the well being of their children. I also see a lot of work that needs to be done, and that understanding the impact of ACE's does provide a foundation to build on. I hope this story helps us understand a little bit more about what we can do to help reduce ACE's in our communities.

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Hi Patrick,
Thank you for your insightful, robust post of such exemplary resources for our children, youth and families impacted by the trauma of their parents incarceration.

As a Commissioner on the Commission on Gang Prevention & Intervention with the City of San Diego, please know I'm profoundly grateful to learn from you and share with my colleagues. 

In gratitude,
Dana Brow

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