Children are innocent bystanders who suffer long-term negative consequences when their parents are incarcerated.
To address this, Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) sponsors HF3105 that would permit judges to take into consideration whether a nonviolent offender is a primary caretaker of a child when choosing between probation and incarceration.
Even a short-term stint in jail for a parent, such as that for a DUI violation, can significantly disrupt family life and make children much more likely to become offenders themselves, Edelson said.
Probation instead of incarceration is much less disruptive to families and children, and judges should be allowed to take that into consideration when sentencing nonviolent offenders, said State Public Defender Bill Ward.
“This bill is about getting offenders and their children the tools for success,” Ward said.
One in six children in Minnesota currently have, or have had, an incarcerated parent, said Laurel Davis, a research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Pediatrics.
Research shows that these children “fare worse than their peers on every single measure of health and development,” she testified. They are more likely to be anxious, depressed, try to commit suicide, skip school, and use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said those are prime reasons why children and adolescents come in contact with the juvenile justice system. Breaking up families and making children pay for the mistakes of their parents “is contrary to the goals of the Department of Corrections,” he said.
Under the bill, a court may evaluate whether probation is better than incarceration for a primary caretaker of a child “based on the relationship between the defendant and the child and the defendant’s duties and responsibilities for the child.”