Minnesota House Lawmakers Explore Better Options for Children with Incarcerated Parents

Rebecca Shlafer, PhD, MPH,  an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics with the University of Minnesota participated in a joint hearing of the House of Corrections Division and the House of Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division. The topic of the hearing was to address ways to minimize the impact of parental incarceration on children. Dr. Shlafer and her team of researchers produced data on incarceration rates in Minnesota that showed that the state had a higher proportion of incarcerated parents compared to the national average. Studies have shown that some children with incarcerated parents perform worse in school, have poorer overall mental and physical health, and have more behavioral and disciplinary issues. 

Though many children continue to thrive with a parent who has been incarcerated, Dr. Shlafer noted that there are current methods to assist these children and there are modifications that could be implemented into society to provide them with better odds. Numerous examples were provided at the hearing including providing family-friendly visiting spaces, increasing visitation hours, and providing opportunities for children to spend time with the parent like books in the visitation areas for the parent to read to the child. The executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Bill Hutton, mentioned that many of these changes to the current local jail systems would be at little cost and could create large benefits for both the child and the parent. By modifying current jail practices to offer a better family dynamic, both children and their parents could benefit both mentally and physically, minimizing the possible detrimental effects of incarceration.