PA Report on Children of Incarcerated Parents

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Sunday - February 12, 2012.

Harrisburg, PA: House Resolution No. 203, Printer’s No. 1321, of 2009 was adopted on June 3, 2009, and Senate Resolution 52, Printer’s No. 708, of 2009 was adopted on June 8, 2009. The resolutions directed the Joint State Government Commission to establish an advisory committee to study the effects of parental incarceration on children of incarceratedparentsreportpicthe incarcerated parents; to recommend a system for determining and assessing the needs of children of incarcerated parents, services available to them, and barriers to accessing those services; and to report recommendations to the House and the Senate. To download a copy of the report, click here.

A 38-member advisory committee was appointed over the course of several months. Ann Schwartzman, Director of Policy of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, served as the chair. The advisory committee includes staff from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Department of Public Welfare, the Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, the Department of Aging, county government centers, police, and the Harrisburg School District. It also includes a judge, attorneys, college professors, representatives of various community-based and faith-based support services and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The advisory committee held its organizational meeting on December 4, 2009 and met again on October 14, 2010 and January 16, 2011.

The House and Senate Resolutions reflect the growing awareness that children of incarcerated parents face unique obstacles unlike those of their peers. The first step in determining the needs of children of the incarcerated and designing effective interventions is to identify these children. Presently, no mechanism exists in Pennsylvania to collect and analyze data of this nature, thus the number and characteristics of these children cannot be ascertained.

Acknowledging the well-documented adverse effects of parental incarceration on children and its significant costs to communities, researchers identify two groups of recommendations that could help to solve or mitigate this problem.

One includes measures to reduce the number of parents sentenced to prison. These measures would include legal reforms, particularly reforms to drug laws, aimed at reducing incarceration rates and addressing state and local budget crises. Such reforms would allow or expand judicial discretion to place those convicted of drug offenses and those who commit other nonviolent crimes into diversion programs including treatment when necessary. Alternative, community-based sentencing is recommended primarily for nonviolent female offenders who act as their child’s caregiver.

The second group consists of ameliorative measures to address the economic and emotional pain of the children whose parents are incarcerated.25 This group incorporates...
  • Providing counseling to children of the incarcerated and their caregivers; • training child care workers, school teachers and counselors as well as corrections officials, to recognize and address the pain and hardship experienced by these children;
  • Improving children’s economic security, by providing financial support to kin caregivers, similar to that offered to non-relative foster parents; making an effort to keep siblings together;
  • Facilitating good-quality contact with the incarcerated parent when appropriate via various channels; and
  • Promoting successful reentry and resuming of their parental roles by offering individuals parenting programs while they are still in prison and eliminating obstacles in their job and housing search after they are released back into the community.
In accordance with the HR 203 and SR 52, the present report focuses on the second group of measures - those aimed at ameliorative intervention, at mitigating the negative impacts of parental incarceration on children, and assisting these children in becoming healthy, productive, and responsible adults.

About the Author

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). She was a featured TEDx speaker at the first-ever TEDx event in Lancaster.  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Breaking-out-of-prison-thinking 

She is an NIC-certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator, and a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Healing Communities model. She is also a trained restorative justice mediator.

Prior to Melanie's involvement with the RMO, she spent several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (Brethren Press, 2009), which tells the true story of a woman who volunteered in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years, creating inmate education and reentry programs based on principles of restorative justice. After Grace Goes to Prison was published, Melanie traveled throughout the United States, doing speaking engagements and meeting with other reentry and restorative justice professionals to discuss criminal justice issues and exchange information and ideas.