Incarceration Has an Enormous Impact on Parental Rights

Divorce & Child Custody in Chicago

The United States imprisons more people than any other country, and many of those incarcerated are parents who wind up losing their children. According to the Marshall Project, more than half of the 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails are parents of minor children.

The Marshall Project statistics show that between 2006 and 2016, tens of thousands of children were placed into foster care solely because a parent was incarcerated. Once their children were in foster care, parents of about 5,000 of these children had their parental rights permanently terminated. One in eight children placed into foster care due to a parent’s incarceration winds up losing that parent forever.

The experienced and compassionate Illinois criminal and family law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., believe that loss of parental rights and lengthy incarceration for those accused of crimes is not always the best answer. We understand the seriousness of the situation and offer aggressive representation for clients facing criminal charges.  We know the courts and the criminal justice system and how to plea bargain, negotiate guidelines and recognize when to take your case to trial to assure the best possible outcome. We offer a free consultation to examine your individual situation and determine the best course of action to protect your rights and your liberty.

Contact us online or call our offices today to set up your free consultation.

Tough Laws for Parents

Lawmakers in recent years have taken a tough stance on incarcerated and absent parents.

In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which mandated that federally funded state child-welfare programs start terminating parental rights in most cases if children had been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. The law also provided bonuses for states that facilitate adoptions. The intent was to make it easier for children in unstable homes to get adopted.

However, as a result of the law and because of the trend toward tough prison sentences, incarcerated parents, who often spend more than 15 months on average in jail, have become more vulnerable to losing their children.

According to the Marshall Project, at least 32,000 incarcerated parents since 2006 had their children permanently taken from them without being accused of physical or sexual abuse. Nearly 5,000 lost their parental rights because of their imprisonment alone. The effect is worse for African-American parents, since a larger portion of them are incarcerated, with 1 in 10 black children having a parent behind bars compared with about 1 in 60 white children.

Problems for Families

Even when parents do not lose custody, many who wind up incarcerated have drug problems, mental illnesses, and difficulty getting jobs and housing. Advocates for adoption point out that it is better for children to be placed in a stable home as obstacles for incarcerated parents turning their lives around are enormous. When parents are incarcerated, it affects the family in the following areas:

  • Parents with criminal records have lower earning potential, savings and assets. Criminal justice debts and child support that still piles up during incarceration drain savings and cause more debt.
  • Parents with criminal records face barriers to education and training opportunities.
  • Barriers to public and private housing make family reunification difficult.
  • Family strength and stability. Financial and emotional stressors associated with parental incarceration challenge healthy relationships.

What Can be Done?

Whether to terminate parental rights is a complicated decision made by family court judges on a case-by-case basis. Foster children younger than 2 years of age are considered to be in the most critical “attachment stage” of development and are often better off being adopted immediately

In Illinois, courts make decisions for children of incarcerated parents as to whether there should be parenting time or “child custody” based on what is in the best interests of the child. The Court can appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate the case, a Child Representative to advocate for the child’s best interests, or an Attorney for the child to advocate for what the child wants, to help make that determination.

If a child has not been adopted, once a parent has been released from jail, Illinois has a program of reunification therapy to help parents and children gain trust in each other.

Other suggestions for helping incarcerated parents and their children include:

  • Require that sentencing and prison-assignment decisions take into account the impact on children and families.
  • Expand access to counseling, parenting courses, educational programs, job training, employment opportunities, affordable housing and other services.
  • Require courts to inform local social service providers when a parent is incarcerated so they can connect with impacted families.
  • Have correctional institutions adopt more family-friendly visitation policies.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

If you are accused of a crime in Illinois, you want to do everything possible to keep out of prison, especially if you have a family. You need to hire the best criminal defense attorney possible, who can advise you on your rights, influence charges against you, and may be able to keep you from being incarcerated.

The seasoned Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We examine the facts and work with our clients throughout the entire criminal process to come up with an effective defense strategy. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights. We are aggressive litigators and offer a free consultation to answer your questions and make sure you fully understand your case and how it affects your parental rights.

Delaying can only make your situation worse, so contact us online or call our offices today to schedule your free initial consultation.