In their 2016 document “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops call for support for a movement to “advocate on behalf of crime victims and… make the justice system more responsive to their concerns.” In their discourse on victims of crime, the bishops identify children left behind by incarcerated parents as among those who are affected by crime.
A fundamental part of a holistic approach to criminal justice reform is special attention and care for victims of crime and a commitment to alleviate the hurt that they experience. We must not forget the children of those who are incarcerated when considering the victims of crime.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, approximately half of the incarcerated population in state prisons in the United States are parents. This means that roughly 1.25 million children in the U.S. have parents who are currently incarcerated. This has damaging and lasting impacts on both the parent and child, especially when they are given limited opportunities for contact. Proposed policies such as SB 39 offer a way to mitigate these negative outcomes and offer a path towards healing for both the parent and child.
Indeed, research has shown that contact between individuals who are incarcerated, and their families results in in positive outcomes all around. These results include increased family and improved mental health outcomes for the child. Decreasing barriers for communication between incarcerated parents and their children promotes the humanity of incarcerated individuals, the dignity of parenthood, and the well-being of children.
The Catholic Church teaches that the relationship between parent and child is a fundamental building block of society and that the roles and responsibilities of a parent or irreplaceable. While acknowledging the right of the state to incarcerate those who are guilty of a crime, more ought to be done to allow for communication between incarcerated parents and their children – to allow this relationship to exist despite the circumstances. SB 39 offers a positive step toward this end.
The Colorado Catholic Conference urges the passage of SB 39.