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Report on Children of Incarcerated Parents Released (Jan 04, 2012)

A state task force charged with investigating the needs of children with a parent in prison issued its report to the public Wednesday. The members of the panel say the main thing they want is for Oklahomans to have a better understanding of the problem.

The report says more than 26,000 Oklahoma children go to bed each night with at least one parent in a state prison, and that number fails to include kids who have a mom or dad incarcerated in a different state or locked up in federal and county facilities

The Rev. Stan Basler, with the Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries of the United Methodist Church in Oklahoma, says the report and its recommendations expose the plight of these children who have been hidden too long.

Judge April Sellers White chaired the task force. She says Oklahoma is infamous for its nation-leading rate for female incarceration, which also causes problems for the children who are left behind.

One member of the task force, Tre Clark, says his time behind bars would have been easier on this daughter and wife if the state paid more attention to the needs of children with a mother or father in prison.

Pottawatomie and Lincoln County District Attorney Richard Smothermon says it’s important for prosecutors to recognize children are unintended victims of crime. He also says the new report is a challenge for lawmakers to take action.

Recommendations from the panel include giving time for incarcerated parents and children to interact, when it is in the child’s best interest and expanding sentencing alternatives to prison. The report also suggests that the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth should serve as the primary agency for increasing public awareness of kids who have parents behind bars.

State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel (R-Tulsa) co-authored the legislation that created the Task Force on Children with Incarcerated Parents. She says even with the new report, there is much more work to be done to track the children and resources intended to help them.

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