NEW REPORT: Keeping Kids and Parents Together

Last week Families for Justice as Healing held a release event for our report “Keeping Kids and Parents Together: A Healthier Approach to Sentencing in Massachusetts” in collaboration with Human Impact Partners at Brookview House in Dorchester.  More than thirty formerly incarcerated people, children of incarcerated people, community members and providers came to support alternatives to incarceration in Massachusetts.


Our new research report presents the health and safety benefits of community-based sentences. Rather than criminalizing families, sentencing alternatives for parents of dependent children better address the root causes of substance abuse, mental health issues, and homelessness.

Separation of mothers from their children too often causes more harm than whatever the underlying offense was. If we are serious about meaningful criminal justice reform in Massachusetts and addressing the intersectional social challenges that lead a person to a prison bunk, we must have the will to actually change the things we are sure do not result in good outcomes. – our founder Andrea James

“The greatest dangers to our communities are not people who commit non-violent drug offenses but gentrification, under-invested public schools coupled with an over-invested police force, lack of access to jobs and housing, all of which perpetuate the crimes our families are being punished for.” –Ayana Auborg, whose father was incarcerated for 17 years

Across the Commonwealth, about 5,665 children are separated from a parent due to incarceration. Having an incarcerated parent is defined as an adverse childhood experience, exposing kids to a variety of health problems that can last a lifetime. The separation caused by incarceration is traumatic and can cause depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in both parents and children.

According to the report, the criminal legal system in Massachusetts ignores the healthy development of kids with incarcerated parents and the community health of those left behind when families are torn apart by incarceration. Studies show that parents who serve sentences while staying connected to their children recidivate less.

Protecting the connection between children and their parents by using alternatives to incarceration will give families a chance at healing and healthy childhood development.” – report author Kim Gilhuly of Human Impact Partners.

Replacing punishment with public health interventions is healthier for families and more cost-effective for communities. A study cited by the report found that women who had their children with them were significantly more likely to complete drug treatment programs than women who were separated from their children. On average, incarcerating a person is three times more expensive than alternatives like drug treatment programs.

The report finds that passing Senate Bill 770An Act providing community-based sentencing alternatives for primary caretakers of dependent children and have been convicted of non-violent crimes” would have a positive health impact on children, parents, and communities –particularly communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration. This bill would expand the ability to set community-based sentences for parents and is currently being considered by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

The evidence-based report makes additional key recommendations if Senate Bill 770 is passed, including that the state should allocate programming resources to community-based alternatives instead of growing the criminal legal system. The report also highlights local examples of potential alternatives to incarceration, like our partners at Brookview House.

Brookview House’s family-centered model provides women and children experiencing homelessness and multiple social stressors with a safe, supportive environment while they pursue education, job training, and/or employment leading to self-sufficiency and stable housing. The report released today indicates that programs like Brookview House, where mothers can serve their sentence with their children in a community setting that offers housing and social services, foster mother-child bonding and healthy child development.

We invite you to read and share the full “Keeping Kids and Parents Together” report:
The Executive Summary of the Report can be found here:
Read about the event in the Boston Globe here.
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