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Locking up parents may be worse than previously thought for children's health, report shows

by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: August 27, 2014
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

The ripple effects of locking up parents might be even worse than previously thought, at least in regards to children’s health, freelance journalist Ryan White reports on his “Children’s Health Matters” blog.

White writes about a study that shows that “parental incarceration is independently associated with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral or conduct problems, developmental delays, and speech or language problems.”

From White’s blog post:

Those findings appear to mesh with earlier well-known research that has shown that the more adverse experiences a child endures, the more health and well-being issues later in life.

“The results suggest that children’s health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration,” Turney said in a statement. “In addition, given its unequal distribution across the population, incarceration may have implications for racial and social class inequalities in children’s health.”

Such inequalities are borne out by the fact that about 50 percent of black children whose fathers don’t have a high school diploma will have a parent behind bars by the age of 14, according to Turney. That compares with 7 percent of white kids whose fathers lack a diploma.

This is particularly concerning in Oklahoma, a state that has long had the highest female incarceration rate in the nation. Oklahoma also generally ranks among the top five states for incarcerating men.

As this Oklahoman editorial points out, Oklahoma passed legislation to reform its corrections system, an effort led by then-House Speaker Kris Steele, but hardly did anything with that legislation:

Steele, who was term limited in 2012, said if the governor and Legislature don’t plan to fund the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, then the law should be repealed. Jones shared similar sentiments during a meeting this week with The Oklahoman’s editorial board. “Let’s just be honest about it and say, ‘You know what? We just don’t want to put the money there,’” Jones said.

He and Steele are right. Better to pull the plug than to pretend there’s an interest at NE 23 and Lincoln in dealing with corrections any differently than we ever have.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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