LINCOLN — About 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent will end up behind bars themselves, according to a national nonprofit group, Defy Ventures, that serves former inmates.
Dealing with that was among the issues the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee explored Friday morning at a hearing on an interim study aimed at examining the impact of incarceration on inmates’ children and what Nebraska is doing to meet the children’s needs.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who sponsored the resolution calling for an interim study, said the issue affects a large number of Nebraskans. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that one in every 10 Nebraska children has a parent who has been in prison or jail at some point.
“We need to ensure that Nebraska is fostering an environment that’s conducive to those continued family connections,” Pansing Brooks said.
Doug Koebernick, inspector general of the Nebraska Correctional System, said easing opportunities for contact between incarcerated parents and children is beneficial to both the parent and the child.
“Strengthening the bonds between an incarcerated parent and their child can minimize trauma inflicted on the child and enhance parenting skills for the incarcerated parent,” many of whom return home, he said.
Koebernick suggested expanding parenting programs in the state.
Julia Tse, a policy coordinator at Voices for Children in Nebraska, said parents and their children face a number of barriers to keeping in contact. Visits often take time and money many families don’t have, and phone calls made from smaller facilities, such as county jails, can cost around $1 per minute.
Additionally, current policies limit physical contact, only allowing children aged 3 and under to be held by their parents during visits. All other children are only allowed a kiss and hug at the beginning and end of visitation.
Pansing Brooks said she didn’t understand the reasoning behind the restrictions to physical contact between parents and their young children.
“Withholding love does not lead to rehabilitation of criminals,” she said.
Tse said these restrictive policies can have negative effects on the development and the physical and mental health of children. Tse said a policy change, like easing restrictions on children during visitation, could help. Other suggestions during the hearing included creating a more child-friendly space for visitations and expanding parenting programs.
“We can’t afford to let these kids fall through the cracks,” Tse said.