In the Alaska Dispatch News this Father’s Day weekend, Family Research Council president and Right on Crime signatory Tony Perkins wrote a commentary calling attention to one of the often-times overlooked aspects of our expansive justice system, in that millions of kids nationwide have at least one parent incarcerated, and this can have manifold negative effects on the stability of the family:

“When I served in law enforcement earlier in my career, I had a front-row seat to observe the collateral damage our criminal justice policies can inflict on children with parents behind bars. The harm often starts when children experience the trauma of witnessing a parent’s arrest, and grows from there.

A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences highlighted the problem, concluding that “fathers’ incarceration and family hardship, including housing insecurity, and behavioral problems in children, are strongly related.” Rates of homelessness are higher among families with a father behind bars, and children of the incarcerated often land in foster care, have trouble in school and struggle to form attachments with peers.”

Perkins goes on to state that while prison is the effective punishment for violent or serial offenders–who represent a threat to the public safety–this often times isn’t the case for non-violent offenders. Among women in the prison population, many of whom are mothers, 85% are being held for non-violent crimes:

“For lower-level lawbreakers like these, we need to adjust our correctional approach in ways that take into account what’s best for family preservation and the future of our children. That means expanding the use of alternative sanctions that enable offenders to pay their debt to society but also remain in the community, where they can stay on the job as parents to their kids.”

Indeed. In addition to these considerations, continuing to incarcerate lower-risk, non-violent offenders in the same population as more hardened, violent offenders risks exposing the former to a culture of criminality that is a common issue among the latter. This has its own implications for public safety, as it ends up making these offenders more of a threat to public safety than when they were first put in detention.

To address many of the problems associated with Alaska’s corrections system, Perkins highlights the recent creation of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, with technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts. This commission will systematically investigate the entirety of the state’s justice system, and make recommendations for reform, that Perkins is confident will “lead to cost-saving improvements for Alaska, as it has already done in so many other states.”

To read the rest of Perkin’s commentary in ADN, click here.

Photo: Associated Press