Letter to Legislators

Louisiana Legislator:

As medical and public health professionals working in Louisiana, we write in support of introducing primary caretaker legislation in the Louisiana legislature. This legislation is vital to improving the health, safety, and well-being of children and parents in Louisiana. By expanding the use of alternatives to incarceration for people who are primary caretakers of children, the bill can ensure that the kids are not unnecessarily separated from their parents. Parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that leads to toxic stress for children, and as more than 50 ACEs studies show, has dire consequences for children. When a parent goes to jail or prison, it sets into action a host of harmful near-term and lifelong effects for their children. Children who have parents who are incarcerated have higher rates of physical health problems and mental health conditions like depression, self-esteem issues, and emotional withdrawal. Children with parents in prison have more behavioral issues like truancy, substance use disorder, and aggressive behaviors. Setting them on a lifelong trajectory, kids with incarcerated parents drop out of school more, have lower test scores, and are often placed in foster care, which comes with a host of poor outcomes. Of great concern is that when a parent is extracted from their lives, children are more likely to be sexually trafficked, become homeless, have lower incomes – all of which could lead to incarceration themselves. Additionally, the types of programs and sentencing options that could be considered as alternatives work – and have better outcomes than prison or jail. Alternatives like drug and alcohol treatment, education, vocational training and job placement, parenting classes, and safe housing show lower recidivism rates than incarceration. Studies show that parents who are convicted but able to remain with or near their children have reduced substance use, higher completion rates for their programs, improved parenting skills, and foster healthier child development. These programs are cost effective and would save the state over $18M annually. We hope that Louisiana will reevaluate the incarceration of primary caretakers who children rely on for care, love, and financial support. This policy and practice change is very manageable in Louisiana. Approximately 1,800 people who are currently incarcerated have been identified as primary caretakers who would have been eligible for consideration of alternate sentencing. Moving forward, we can hold people accountable while helping create conditions for success and rehabilitation. And while this is manageable for our state, it would be a huge change for the families, and particularly children. Community safety is crucial to public health, but incarcerating primary caretakers of children leads to future safety issues. It is time for Louisiana to lead the nation in decreasing incarceration of people who are primary caretakers of children. By using alternative sentencing, Louisiana can create safe, stable, and nurturing environments for children and families. Parents who have committed crimes often do so because of harms they have experienced, or lack of access to opportunity. Getting parents the services, support, and treatment to enable them to care for their children will mean safer communities for us all. For these reasons, among others, I support introducing this critical primary caretakers legislation in Louisiana.