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James Wright, NNPA, Afro-American Newspapers
Published: 04 March 2009

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - When Lawrence Miller was in jail in Prince George's County for receiving stolen property in June 2007 and in the District's jail for violating probation in September, he missed his friends and close family members with whom he interacted on a daily basis. But the one person he missed the most was his 9-year-old son.
"I had no contact with my son while I was locked up and that really hurt," the 31-year-old D.C. resident said. "His mother, who I say is a friend, would not bring him to the jail in Maryland [Upper Marlboro] or D.C. jail to see me. Because of that, I missed out on some things.
"I did have a chance to write him a letter but that was the extent of the contact. I wish I could have seen him."
Miller is an example of what some social scientists and professionals in public policy say is an increasingly disturbing trend: parents who are incarcerated.
According to a report released Feb. 9 by the D.C.-based Sentencing Project, mass incarceration has had significant and long-lasting impacts on American society and particularly on communities of color.
"There is a growing awareness that parents who go to prison do not suffer the consequences alone; the children of incarcerated parents often lose contact with their parent and visits are sometimes rare," said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project and co-author of the report, "Incarcerated Parents and their Children: Trends 1991-2007.
"Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency and subsequently be incarcerated themselves."
The report was based on statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics citing data from 1997, 2004 and 2007.
"There is a growing awareness that parents who go to prison do not suffer the consequences alone…"
The report states that in 2007, there were 1.7 million children in the United States with a parent in prison, more than 70 percent of them children of color. The report presents other disturbing statistics such as:
* One in 43 American children has a parent in prison. In terms of race, it is one in 15 Black children, one in 42 Latinos compared to Whites, which is one in 111.
* In 2007, there were 809,800 parents incarcerated in state and federal prisons, an increase of 79 percent since 1991.
* In 2007, 52 percent of all incarcerated men and women were parents.
* Two-thirds of the incarcerated parent population is non-White.
Studies from government and non-governmental organizations, such as the Children's Defense Fund, have confirmed that 70 percent of Black children are raised by a single parent, overwhelmingly the mother. And the number of mothers who are incarcerated has gone up considerably.
"Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency and subsequently be incarcerated themselves."
The report says that from 1991 to 2007, the number of incarcerated mothers increased by 122 percent compared to a rise of 76 percent for incarcerated fathers.
While the vast majority of children of male prisoners are living with their mothers, only 37 percent of the children of incarcerated women are living with their fathers, the report said.
The Rev. Donald Isaac is executive director of the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership based in Southeast Washington. The mission of the organization is to help formerly incarcerated District ex-offenders get back into society.
Isaac said the report's statistics are not good but if you add the mother's absence, the problem is even more tragic.
"It's devastating to have the father in jail but when the mother is incarcerated, it's really bad," Isaac said. "Then the child is raised by grandparents or the foster care system. That creates an imbalance in the child who's conditioned to believe that he should have a mother and a father in their life.
''Plus, it's the mother that generally nurtures the child and when she is missing, a natural support system is non-existent."
In 2004, the report says that more than half of parents housed in a state correctional facility had never had a personal visit from their children and almost half of parents in a federal facility had experienced the same. The report said that a key factor in the limited contact was that the incarcerated parent was generally housed far from home.
In 2004, 62 percent of parents in a state facility and 84 percent of parents in a federal facility were housed more than 100 miles from their place of residence.
While the situation did not apply to Lawrence Miller, it is a problem that has been raised by ex-offender advocates, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D). They argue that since the closing of the Lorton, Va., facility, District offenders are sent to prisons in some cases thousands of miles away from their families.
These families cannot visit their incarcerated kin when they want because of the cost of travel and lodging involved.
Isaac said he's often observed ex-offenders who have served their time in facilities miles away become personally distant from what were once close family members.
"It seems that when the offender comes home, if that person has not had close contact with family, they become estranged and isolated," he said. "The children may know of them, but not know them personally and they do not bond. The estrangement might lead the offender back into criminal activity."
In its conclusion, the study recommended more family-friendly correctional systems in support of the offender and urged reconsideration of lengthy sentencing policies. Mauer of The Sentencing Project said public policy should face the ongoing realities of incarceration and how it can be used to keep families together.
"The problems talked about in this report are likely to worsen as maternal incarceration continues to rise," he said. "Awareness of the issue and its implications, along with action to reduce the impact of incarceration on children, is necessary in order to protect and support children when their parents are incarcerated."
Miller said he hated missing the little things, like his son receiving an award for a project at his school's science fair. He also admitted being upset that his mother's boyfriend spent more time with Miller's son than he did when he was in jail.
Nevertheless, Miller said he has a good relationship with his son.
"When I come around he shouts, 'Daddy, Daddy,' and he tells me about his PlayStation games, his little girlfriend, things like that," said Miller. "When I see his face, it is unconditional love."

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