March 14, 2010
Dwayne Carter a.k.a. Lil Wayne, a rap star, was scheduled for sentencing last week in a New York courtroom. He had pled guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. Although his sentence hearing was postponed, Carter is expected to receive a one-year sentence to be served at Riker’s Island Prison.
As the New York prison system gets ready to house yet another celebrity prisoner—recent celebrities included ex-New York Giant Plaxico Burress, Soprano’s star Lillo Brancato, Jr. and female rapper Foxy Brown—everyone’s focused on how to best accommodate high profile inmates. ''It's a challenge,'' said Martin Horn, a former commissioner of corrections in New York City. Horn told the New York Times, ''It's not about setting (a celebrity) on a bed of roses, but it is about an obligation to every inmate to keep him safe.''
Forgotten in all of this is the safety, security, and well being of the victims. Some might say that Carter and Burress committed victimless crimes. After all, Burress shot himself and Carter did not discharge his .40- caliber handgun he merely had it on his tour bus. However, in the wake of this conduct, and most criminal activity, are the children of the offenders. They are victims too. Carter has four children, three born within the last 16 months. Burress has two children.
Children of incarcerated parents are growing at a faster rate than the nation’s prison population. In 2008, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report that found 1 in every 100 adults in America are in prison or jail. The report generated a great deal of attention.
The Pew report overshadowed a report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that was released about the same time. The DOJ report, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, found that more than 1.7 million minor children, or about 1 in 43, have one or both parents behind bars.
The rate of children with an incarcerated parent has soared. Between 1991 and 2007, children with a parent in jail or prison have increased by 82-percent. The average age of a child with an incarcerated parent is 8 years-old.
The impact of incarceration on children is usually first observed in school. In a 2006 report, Effects of Parental Incarceration on Young Children, 50-percent of children of incarcerated parents had school problems. These problems manifested themselves in poor grades and aggression. Middle school and high school aged children received more suspensions and ultimately dropped out of school at higher rates than their contemporaries.
Why should policymakers be concerned about children of incarcerated parents? Educational failure is a precursor to criminal activity. According to a 2006 study, Saving the Children of Prisoners, children of incarcerated parents are 6 to 10 times more likely to end up in prison than the average young person.
There is also growing concern over the increase in mothers facing incarceration. The number of incarcerated mothers has increased by 122-percent since 1991. The hardships that befall single mothers facing incarceration, and their children, are particularly alarming.
A 2008 report released by the Sentencing Project, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, presented the plight of incarcerated mothers in a compelling manner. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed in 1997 provides for the termination of parental rights if a child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months. Since most prison sentences exceed that time, incarcerated mothers risk losing custody of their children permanently. Not surprisingly, women inmates report having children in foster care five times as often as male inmates.
Not every child of an incarcerated parent had a parent removed from an intact family and sent off to jail. In fact, according to the DOJ, fewer than half of parents in state prison lived with their minor children before coming to prison. However, for those children who lose a custodial parent, even temporarily, the results can be devastating for the child and down the road a potential threat to public safety.