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U.S. Statement at HRC Meeting on Children and the Administration of Justice
Afternoon Session: Children deprived of their liberty and children of incarcerated parents
March 8, 2012

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America

Delivered by Mirian S. Schive

Human Rights Council 19th Session 

The United States appreciates the opportunity to address the issue of children of incarcerated parents.

Parental incarceration can affect many aspects of a child’s life, including emotional and behavioral well-being, family stability, and financial circumstances.  For infants and toddlers, it can result in a life of attachment disorders and the resulting inability to appropriately express emotions and develop healthy relationships.  For young children and adolescents, parental absence can result in missed opportunities to provide guidance, structure and boundaries for youth as they approach adulthood.

It is critical that children have access to incarcerated parents, but only where the parent in question is actively working to improve parenting skills and only if appropriate protections for children are provided in the correctional setting.

This is not an easy task.  Often the solution to one challenge leads to other challenges.  For example, the UN has long recognized that incarcerated children and adults should be housed separately, yet Member States, the United States included, advocate for programs where the children remain with their mothers during the early bonding years.  To meet both challenges of separate housing and keeping children with their mothers, we must have separate units for families, which can create financial difficulties.

Although this picture seems grim, many countries, including the United States, have developed family programs where infants live with their incarcerated mothers to ensure children have access to their mothers.  Visitation programs also ensure they have access to their fathers.

Further, as concerned human beings and responsible governments we should strive to ensure imprisonment does not result in collateral punishment for families. Thus, we must do better in the provision of programming for parents who are incarcerated, to ensure that children receive the benefit of positive interaction with their parents.  For example, parenting programs may be necessary to prepare the inmate for positive parenting skills. Additionally, training for prison staff and program ownership by prison staff will create a successful environment for positive parenting.

Attitudes and societal notions about those who are incarcerated must also be addressed.   Those outside prison walls must be reminded that the vast majority of those serving time will one day be released back into the community.  It is therefore in the best interest of all for inmates to return to communities rehabilitated, with family ties strong and intact.

Thank you, Madame President.