Compensating for Ripped Away Childhoods

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On any given day, there are about 1.5 million children whose parents are behind bars (Annie 8). Despite the unfathomable affect having their parents ripped away from children can be, in most cases it was their parents own decisions that got them incarcerated. However, what if it wasn’t the parents fault? Instead it was the criminal justice system’s fault. According to The National Registry of Exonerations, more than 22,010 years have been lost to wrongful convictions. Due to false imprisonment, invaluable time has been lost with children, resulting in economic hardships, mental strain, and educational consequences, it is vital for the criminal justice system to implement extra compensation exonerees with minor children.

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Taking away a child's main caregiver can hold various consequences. One of the most apparent issues comes with an economic downfall for the incarcerated. Directly affecting the child, lack of money and resources impacts a child's day to day life. Economically based this includes, poverty, homlessness, health, and food security. The National Institute of Justice presents a study that shows a family’s income was 22 percent lower during incarceration. Factors such as, travel costs for visits, phone calls, legal expenses, court fees, and loss of family income contribute to depletion in economic status. Without the ability to consistently contact a parent behind bars due to the fees of phone calls and visits, relationships may be withered. “When we lock someone up, we often sentence the whole family—not just emotionally, but also financially.” (Who Pays? 11). This quote from a research report about the backlash on families that incarceration has, it shows that not only is the effect on families emotional state detrimental, but also financial situations. Moreover, it is estimated that nearly two in three families with an incarcerated family member fail to meet their family’s basic needs. Specifically investigating food security, 49% of families struggle meeting basic standards (Who Pays? 7). Without having the ability to make money and instead being behind bars, it is only obvious that a families economic status will go down. Also, because of imprisonment people behind bars will lose their jobs and means of income. In return, without financial stability, housing could be lost, cars and even may have to resort to selling kids toys or belongings. This issue will prevail while and after incarceration. New research shows that after incarceration, as high as 55% of prisoners after release earn any money after a full month (Adam). This statistic shows the deep struggles of finding employment and ways of income is after serving time.

Having a child’s parent stripped away from them can be imminent to trigger an emotionally traumatic event. Being an unexpected event, there is almost no way for a child to prepare for this. A study done in the United States shows that in contrast to kids with non-incarcerated parents, “children of incarcerated parents were 4.7 times more likely than children of matched controls to exhibit internalizing problems when they were 11–16 years old.” (Laurel). Due to incarceration, a caregiver is taken away the chance to parent and guide their children in the right direction. “From a public health perspective, preventing parental incarceration could improve the well-being of children and young adults, as could aiding children and families once a parent figure has been incarcerated.” (Duke). Taken from a story done by Duke University, this quote highlights the importance it is for children to have a parent during childhood. In response to parent incarceration, studies show that on average children with incarcerated children parents are six times more likely to be incarcerated themselves (Duke). Additionally, it is almost twice as likely for a child with an incarcerated parent to have diagnosable anxiety. Imagine being a child whose parent was taken away for a crime they did not commit. Knowing this as a child will only trigger more and more disruptful feelings that will get in the way of their development as a young one.

In effect of the mental impact that children with incarcerated parents have, studies show increasing academic struggles. Considering long term effects that doing good in school for children has including, future employment, physical health, incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, mental strain that affects children academically is a problem with a bigger picture. Effects of incarcerated parents include, loss of interest, behavioral problems, and performance depletion. A study in Children and Youth Service Reviews found that 49% of children affected by incarcerated mothers between the ages of 9 to 14 experience behavioral problems that lead to suspension in school. Additionally, 45% expressed a loss of interest in school. Another study found that elementary kids with incarcerated fathers were more at risk for grade repetition than their peers without an incarcerated parent (Kristin). Being put in the shoes of a child with an incarcerated parent, their main focus wouldn’t be school or what they have to do for homework. Instead, they will be worrying day after day when their mom or dad will be coming home. “Children of incarcerated fathers exhibit increased attention difficulties and decreased cognitive skills, which contribute to lower levels of school readiness.” (Siobhan). Pulled from a UC Davis article there is an overwhelming awareness of the academic and mental impacts of incarcerated parents. Even more alarming data pulled from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, shows that those who had an incarcerated parent were less likely to receive their high school diploma compared to the counterpart of teens. It is obvious in theory and shown from studies the academic impact that incarceration has on children. Reasons of academic struggle correlate back to circumstances due to an incarcerated parent. Specifically, economic downfalls, mental strain, and disrupted caregiving. All in all, considering all the potential downfalls that incarceration can have on a child, if this happens due to a wrongful conviction, something needs to be done.

Considering exonerees in California can gain $100 a day in compensation, missing invaluable time of your child growing up can be remarkably tragic for both parent and child. Responsibly, the criminal justice system should supply exonerees who were left out of their child's adolescent extra pay in compensation. Not only for the exonerees sake, but also considering the children and family affected. It is unfair to the parent exonerees due to the fact that they are a parent and they have to not only care for themselves but also their children. “For most exonerees, financial compensation for their injuries is unavailable or woefully inadequate.” (Mary). Having this in mind, if someone who doesn’t have to provide for anyone but themselves, but financial compensation is “inadequate”, how will an exoneree provide for themselves and children. Furthermore, with the extra money, families can invest in therapies, health, and secure shelter. If the primary breadwinner of the family becomes incarcerated, it is important to consider further impacts it will have on exonerees who have children. While in prison they won’t be able to save and make money for necessities such as college funding for children, medical care, means of transportation, like cars, and etcetera. Furthermore, the importance to not only compensate for the exoneree but for the children who were deeply impacted by their parent behind bars is vital to justice for the wrongfully convicted. Unfair circumstances emplaced on wrongful convicts and their children that lead to staggering issues should be addressed in various ways. Concerning the impact academically, mentally, and economically, providing additional money for compensation will help families recuperate after serving time. The first step to right the wrongs of the parental absence for adolescents comes within an expansion of existing compensation laws in California.

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