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55,000 Nevada Kids Separated from Parents by Incarceration

About 55,000 Nevada children are growing up absent from a parent who's in jail or prison. (iStockphoto)
About 55,000 Nevada children are growing up absent from a parent who's in jail or prison. (iStockphoto)
April 26, 2016

LAS VEGAS - About 55,000 children, or 8 percent of all Nevada kids, grow up with a parent serving time in prison or jail, according to a new report. The Annie E. Casey Foundation calls it a "Shared Sentence" for kids, families and communities, and says the number of children affected nationally tops 5 million.

Stephen Miller, an economics professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said Nevada's numbers are troubling.

"That's a pretty high percentage," he said, "although nationally, the highest percentage is in Kentucky at 13 percent, and I think the lowest is New Jersey at 3 percent."

State crime statistics have shown that Nevada has a seven percent higher rate of incarceration than the national average, yet it only spends two-thirds of the national average per prisoner. The report recommended that states fund more job training in prison for high-demand fields that will allow people to support their families when they're released.

Louise Helton, a Nevada Kids Count board member and UNLV communications specialist, said the state has over-relied on incarceration and needs to do more to reach out to the families left behind.

"It's important to make sure that children whose parents are incarcerated do have some financial support, or some access to special services, to keep them afloat until that parent can return," she said.

Scot Spencer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for advocacy and influence, said most of the kids affected are very young.

"A great number of those kids are under 10," he said. "More than 15 percent of children with parents in federal prison and 20 percent with parents in state prison are 4 or younger."

The report recommended that judges keep children in mind when sentencing parents and allow them to serve their time in a facility close to family. It also encouraged states to help people find work and housing after they're released.

The report is online at aecf.org/sharedsentence.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV