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Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights

NCJ Number
Nell Bernstein
Date Published
59 pages

This booklet presents eight rights that the American society should ensure for the children of incarcerated parents, and suggestions are offered for how to implement each one.


The first right for a child of an incarcerated parent is "to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent's arrest." In implementing this right, the suggestions are to develop arrest protocols that support and protect arrestees' children but do not unnecessarily involve the child welfare system and increase the risk of permanent separation from the parent; and to recruit and train advocates to support children during and/or after a parent's arrest. The second right is "to be heard when decisions are made about me." This might involve creating a mechanism for children's needs to be heard in court proceedings that will affect their lives. The third right is "to be considered when decisions are made about my parent." This could mean ensuring that sentencing laws, guidelines, and decisions achieve their public safety function without causing unnecessary harm to children. The fourth right is "to be well cared for in my parent's absence." This should involve the provision of financial assistance for relatives who become caretakers for children while their parents are in prison. Further, subsidized guardianship should be considered as an alternative to foster care for children of incarcerated parents. The fifth right is "to speak with, see, and touch my parent." This should involve the facilitation of in-person and telephone contacts between incarcerated parents and their children. The remaining rights are "to support as I struggle with my parent's incarceration;" "not to be judged, blamed, or labeled because of my parent's incarceration;" and "to a lifelong relationship with my parent." 22 notes