Indiana House passes Macer plan to help incarcerated parents and their children

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana House members today passed legislation authored by Representative Karlee Macer (D-Speedway) that would help children maintain their relationship with an incarcerated parent.

In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act. A provision of the bill requires states to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of a child if the child is in foster care for 15 of 22 consecutive months. The act was passed by Congress to get children out of foster care and into an adopted family. Unfortunately, what Congress did not foresee was the negative effects this provision would have on children with incarcerated parents.

“House Bill 1432 continues to place paramount emphasis on the best interests of the child,” Macer said. “This bill would allow the court to evaluate parental rights on a case-by-case basis. A judge would be able to consider whether the incarcerated mom or dad plays a meaningful role in the child’s life and the length of the parent’s sentence when determining whether or not to sever a parent-child relationship.”

Right now, there are roughly 3 million children with a mom or dad incarcerated in a U.S. prison. In fact, over half of the 2 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are the parents of a minor child.

Indiana has the second highest rate of incarcerated parents in the country. Eleven percent of Indiana children – about 180,000 – have had a parent incarcerated at some point during their lives. According to the Urban Institute, the separation between a child and their parents can cause depression, aggression, social isolation, and an inability to regulate emotion and behavior.

“When we send a mom or dad to prison for writing bad checks or using drugs, we don’t consider that we may be permanently breaking the bond between them and their children,” Macer said.

The U.S. imprisons over one-third of all incarcerated women in the world and 80 percent of those women are mothers. Women are five times as likely as men to lose their children during incarceration, and since they are often the primary caregivers, the resulting separation can be devastating for the parent and the child.

“Since becoming a state representative, I have spent a good deal of time working with inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison,” Macer said. “I have seen firsthand the impact that prison can have on the relationships between a parent and child.

“In some cases, parental right should be terminated,” Macer added. “But in other cases, the mom or dad works incredibly hard in prison to play a meaningful and positive role in their children’s lives. I’ve witnessed moms at the Indiana Women’s Prison taking parenting classes and interacting with their children every chance they get.”

House Bill 1432 now moves to the Indiana Senate for consideration.

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