They have done no wrong, committed no crimes, yet thousands of children in Louisiana are being punished for their parents’ mistakes, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. They are the hidden casualties of the state’s world-leading mass incarceration rate, and the newspaper is exploring the damage done to children when a parent is sent to prison in a series, Family Sentences, that started today. The series reports on how law enforcement and the courts don’t always recognize that the people that they arrest, prosecute, and sentence are more than just suspects. Often, they are mothers and fathers. Their imprisonment will affect children, households and entire communities.
The newspaper says its series will report on how parents charged with nonviolent offenses are held for months — sometimes years — as they await trial simply because they are too poor to pay bail and how this practice can leave children teetering on the edge of homelessness or falling into the foster care system. It will detail how keeping some children connected to their incarcerated parents can break the cycle of recidivism. And yet families encounter significant obstacles along the way: from long and expensive trips across Louisiana to a jail telephone system that charges low-income families up to 10 times the average rate while generating millions of dollars for sheriffs and correctional facilities. In the U.S., there are an estimated 5.1 million, or one in 14 children who at one point in their lives have had to cope with having a parent in jail.