How Having an Incarcerated Parent Harms Children’s Health and What You Can Do About It

Kentucky has the second highest rate (15%) in the nation of children who have had an incarcerated parent. This rate is nearly double the national rate of 8%.

Having an incarcerated parent is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a form of trauma. This trauma can lead to toxic stress, which can harm health. For example, Alex, a character In Sesame Street feels sad and agnry because his father is incarcerated. I just miss him so much. Sometimes it makes me want to pound my pillow and scream. See the Health Impact Report on our research page for more information.

In Louisville, Metro, as in many cities across the country, there are significant racial and socioeconomic disparities as people of color and their children are most impacted by incarceration. Jefferson County Census data shows that while Black males age 18 and older represent only 9.2% of the population, yet this demographic group accounts for 31% of bookings and 43% of the incarcerated population at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections in 2018. This is in sharp contrast to the more proportional representation, either in booking or in custody, of White males 18 and over in Louisville Metro.

The significant overrepresentation of incarcerated Black males creates racial disparity as Black children become significantly affected by parental incarceration. In Louisville Metro, the growing effect of parental incarceration on children’s health and wellness makes action by our community imperative and urgent.

Having an incarcerated parent does not have to be a life sentence for children in Louisville. Together, we can create a healthy future, for example, by:

  • providing trauma informed education and trainings for parents, teachers, police, judges, juvenile and corrections staffs,
  • consider alternative sentencing in District Courts for defendants who are custodial parents,
  • creating innovative practices for strengthening protective factors for children and youth with direct experiences of parental incarceration
  • developing more family friendly policies and practices in our local criminal justice systems.

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