Hard Time-sharing: Visiting the Parent in Prison

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Monday, July 20, 2015.

Here in the freest country in the world, we have over 2.2 million people behind bars, the highest rate in the world. For children timesharing with an incarcerated parent, it’s not all “cupcakes and lollipops”. A new study is looking at the problem.

The purpose of the study was to better understand the factors associated with, and effects of, prison visitation for children during maternal and paternal incarceration.

As gatekeepers, caregivers play a pivotal role in the facilitation of parent-child prison visitation. Yet, some caregivers may be more likely to take children to visit than others.

The study, “It’s Not All Cupcakes and Lollipops:’ An Investigation of the Predictors and Effects of Prison Visitation for Children during Maternal and Paternal Incarceration.”

The study found that 65% of children reacted negatively to prison visitation, resulting in crying, emotional outbursts, depressive symptoms, poor attitudes, acting out, and developmental regression, according to interviews with caregivers who have a parent incarcerated in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

One-third of children were reported to have had a positive experience, which included excitement and improved attitudes and behaviors.

“In-prison visitation may be considered a ‘reset’ button for prisoners, caregivers, and children as they attempt to settle the past, discuss the present and plan for the future,” Tasca said.

“At the same time, however, prison visitation can be an arduous undertaking emotionally, physically, and economically for children and caregivers.”

Two primary factors shaped how children responded to visits with an incarcerated mother or father: the institutional environment and the parent-child relationship.

“The punitive nature of corrections often extends to the family, including intrusive search procedures, poor treatment by staff and visiting rooms not conducive to family interactions,” Tasca said.

“Levels of parental attachment also were in issue, with some highly strained because of limited prior involvement and criminal activities.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013 there were about two million children with an incarcerated parent, predominately from poor, minority families. About one-quarter to two-thirds of children visit a parent in prison.

For incarcerated mothers, children were accompanied most frequently by a grandmother; for incarcerated fathers, it was the child’s mother who often escorted the child to prison.

Most families of prisoners are fiscally and emotionally overburdened, the study found. More than half of the caretakers of the children of imprisoned parents were on public assistance and lived more than 100 miles from the facility where prisoners were housed.

The study should add to the collateral consequences of incarceration literature by providing greater insight into the imprisonment experience for vulnerable families.

The study is available here.