Incarcerated Parents in Alaska Prisons

Incarcerated Parents in Alaska Prisons

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Summer 2004). "Incarcerated Parents in Alaska Prisons." Alaska Justice Forum 21(2): 5. As mentioned in an accompanying review of the books Prisoners Once Removed, an estimated 2 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison. If Alaska figures parallel this national estimate, there may be as many as two thousand Alaskan children with at least one incarcerated parent. This article provides current information about services for incarcerated parents in Alaska prisons and their families.

The situation of Alaska children who have incarecerated parents is now receiving more attention and there are slightly more services available to help inmates continue to function as parents, but the programmatic efforts are very limited and their funding situation is tenuous.

There are still no firm numbers on how many prisoners under the authority of the Alaska Department of Corrections have minor children or, by extension, how many children have a parent incarcerated. As mentioned in the accompanying review of the book Prisoners Once Removed, it is estimated that in the nation as a whole 2 million children currently have at least one parent in prison, but more detailed figures are lacking. If Alaska figures parallel this national estimate, as is probable, there are a couple thousand children in the state with at least one parent incarcerated.

The Alaska Department of Corrections does not currently collect information on the family situation of imprisoned offenders in any systematic way. Assembling figures for Alaska was one objective of a statewide project being administered by Catholic Community Services (CCS) in Juneau in conjunction with DOC, but thus far no real progress has been made on this point, and because of the problematic nature of the current DOC computer system, this situation probably will not change.

The Catholic Community Services program has some limited survey results for the Hiland Mountain, Meadow Creek and Lemon Creek prisons that give an imprecise idea of the number of children with an incarcerated parent. At Hiland Mountain, the 115 women completing the survey last spring had a total of 211 children under 18. Some of these children were under a year old. The 12 men completing the survey at Meadow Creek were fathers to 30 children under 18. At Lemon Creek, where a slightly different survey was administered, the 174 inmates who completed the survey represented 227 children.

The CCS project began in 2002 under a three-year grant from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). It was one of twelve similar programs throughout the country to receive NIC funding. The project has established positions—grant-funded—within DOC facilities to assist prisoners in meeting the multitude of needs that arise when a parent is incarcerated. Program staff assist with visiting problems and child care arrangements, provide parenting classes and other instruction, and, in general, trouble-shoot. They work closely with the state Office of Children’s Services.

Currently, the project’s most established institutional program is located at the Hiland Mountain facility. The CCS program administrator at Hiland Mountain informally estimates that at least one hundred women—mothers of about two hundred children—contact the program there each month. The program is now beginning to extend its services to the male inmate population at Meadow Creek, and a project position within the Anchorage Correctional Complex was established this spring. The CCS project has also built a network of information resources and contacts for others beyond DOC who are trying to meet the special needs of children of incarcerated parents—such as teachers and social workers.

The project is in the last year of its three-year grant. The National Institute of Corrections has not made follow-on funding available, but another type of grant from NIC—one focused on mentoring children of incarcerated parents— will permit the CCS program to continue. In addition, a similar grant awarded to Big Brothers—Big Sisters of Juneau will also contribute to the effort within DOC. These are also three-year grants.

DOC has no plans to establish this type of program on a permanent basis within its own administrative purview. Department policy considers the work entailed in this area to be more effectively handled by a liaison position funded by another agency or by a non-profit, as with the current situation.