Survey: Nearly 1 in 5 Greater Minnesota teens affected by parental incarceration

innovative ways to support children with incarcerated parents


March 29, 2023

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, six county jails and other partners have joined together in a pilot project designed to help children and incarcerated parents maintain family ties. Having an incarcerated parent can lead to an increased risk of illness, poor mental health, substance abuse and poor academic outcomes, according to research done in partnership between the University of Minnesota and Wilder Research. However, staying connected can reduce some of the negative health and other impacts incarceration can have on children.

The pilot program is focused on improving the health of children and their incarcerated parents by facilitating more than 3,500 video visits as well as having hundreds of parents complete parenting education programs in and outside of jail.

This effort has taken on additional importance after the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey indicated nearly one in every five teens in some areas of Greater Minnesota are impacted by parental incarceration. This makes it one of the most frequently reported adverse childhood experiences in Minnesota. Researchers at the University of Minnesota also found in 2017 that about two-thirds of adults in Minnesota jails were parents with children younger than age 18. Most of these parents lived with at least one of their children before arrest, and a majority were interested in parenting education.

“Given what we know about the health benefits of keeping families connected while parents are incarcerated, it’s heartening to see public health and the justice system coming together in these successful pilots to support and help families with an incarcerated parent,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham.

To address the problem and support families, MDH and the University of Minnesota came together to form the Minnesota Model Jail Practices Learning Community. This learning community, which meets quarterly, includes staff from six partner jails: Carlton County Jail, Olmsted County Jail, Ramsey County Correctional Facility, Renville County Jail, Sherburne County Jail and Stearns County Jail. The project has partnered with the Minnesota Sherriff’s Association and aims to support parent-child relationships, increase child well-being, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety.

A recently completed video, Minnesota Model Jail Practices: Supporting Families, captures some of the positive jail system and family transformations happening in Minnesota. In addition, a budget proposal from Gov. Tim Walz would expand the program to allow more counties to replicate these programs for incarcerated parents in jails.

“As we grew the program, and as we grew the connections between the incarcerated individual and their families, you could see the impact it was making,” said Bill Hutton, former executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, in the video about the project. “I learned about how we need to see the culture change here in Minnesota and throughout the country when it comes to incarcerated caregivers.”

MDH and University of Minnesota have supported jails through the following efforts:

• Implementing a common set of intake questions.

• Supporting reduced-cost or free video visits for parents to talk with their children.

• Supporting increased access to in-person visiting opportunities in some cases.

• Implementing parenting education programs in the jail, local prison, substance abuse treatment facilities.

• Connecting incarcerated parents and caregivers to community resources such as Family Home Visiting and Help Me Connect.

• Inviting schools to host support groups for children who have experienced parent incarceration.

• Strengthening relationships between jails and child protection to better support families involved in both systems.

Across Greater Minnesota, between 15% to 22% of eighth, ninth, and 11th graders reported having a parent or guardian in jail or in prison currently or in the past, on the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey. That compares to 10% of similar students in the metro reporting having an incarcerated parent or guardian in jail or in prison currently or in the past.

Statewide, in 2022, 13% of students reported having had an incarcerated parent or guardian compared to 18% percent as reported in 2019. This decline correlated with significant reductions in incarceration during the pandemic – a trend that has since reversed.

Toolkits, presentations, courses and details about individual jail efforts are available at the MDH website Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents. These were developed by a host of collaborators including MDH, the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, the Center for Leadership Education in Maternal & Child Public Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, The Wilder Foundation, university extension educators, practitioners, and corrections professionals. In addition to the MDH program, other state efforts are also supporting children impacted by parent incarceration, including the Minnesota Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC) and the Department of Corrections.



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