Parental Incarceration Is Bad for Children’s Health

September 23, 2014

“Family unity and stability have profound impacts on children’s lifelong health,” according to a health impact assessment of Proposition 47 released today by Human Impact Partners (HIP), a nonprofit that analyzes the effects of current and proposed public policies on community health. Proposition 47, “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot and would reduce California’s reliance on incarceration for nonviolent crimes.

HIP’s study estimates that over 10,000 children could be affected by the measure due to a resentencing option for parents who are currently incarcerated. Moreover, as many as 5,800 children a year may not have to see their parent go to prison for a nonviolent crime in the future.

The CBP’s own analysis of Proposition 47, released earlier this month, discussed the negative health impact of incarceration on individuals and their communities. As parents experience periods of incarceration, their children can be exposed to persistent poverty, food insecurity, frequent relocations, and repeated abandonment. This often leads to childhood behavioral difficulties, lower academic test scores, and an increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Incarcerating parents increases children’s likelihood of developing health problems, even when other risk factors — such as chronic poverty, access to health care, and the safety of the neighborhood — are taken into account. In a new study, Kristin Turney, assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that childhood learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), behavioral problems, developmental delays, and speech or language problems are all significantly related to parental incarceration. Having a parent incarcerated was in some cases more detrimental than divorce or the death of a parent.

As these youth transition into adulthood, many play a supporting role for their parents, which can put a strain on their own lives. Children of Re-Entry is a youth-led New America Media project that is working to document the stories of young people as they grapple with their parents’ incarceration and subsequent return home. In 21-year-old Alisha’s words:

A part of me knows that I’m my mom’s backbone, almost. When I’m around she tries harder. But sometimes that’s not good enough. I don’t want to look over my shoulder all the time. Like, I don’t want to worry about coming home and finding my mom not okay.

Addressing the health needs of children with incarcerated parents is a common-sense public safety approach. Untreated and unaddressed health issues as children can lead to future problems, such as drug addiction, that are prevalent in the criminal justice population. Supporting family stability would likely improve health outcomes and educational and employment prospects for these youth. Reducing unnecessary incarceration for nonviolent crimes could be one way to support family stability and thereby strengthen the long-term well-being of our communities.

— Selena Teji

Proposition 47 Would Continue Trend Toward Local Public Safety Solutions

September 10, 2014

Yesterday the CBP released an analysis of Proposition 47, “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot. The measure would reclassify seven categories of nonviolent drug and property crimes as misdemeanors, thereby reducing penalties for various low-level offenses (except for individuals with specific serious, violent, or sex offense histories). In addition, Proposition 47 would allow for resentencing of individuals who were previously convicted of the reclassified crimes.

In essence, the measure proposes a series of amendments to current sentencing law in California that would simplify, lower, and equalize the penalties for common nonviolent crimes, such as shoplifting and drug possession for personal use. By doing so, Proposition 47 would continue California’s recent trend of moving away from state corrections for nonviolent crimes and investing in local public safety solutions.

This type of sentencing modification was embodied more broadly in 2011 when the Legislature transferred — or realigned — responsibility for supervising individuals convicted of low-level felonies from the state to counties based on a framework proposed by Governor Brown. Despite the large-scale shift that realignment created, there may still be a need for a deeper revision of California’s sentencing laws.

California’s sentencing structure is a complex system of laws that offer little transparency into the purpose or effectiveness of the system as a whole. Competing goals of punishment and rehabilitation have swung largely in favor of incarceration since the 1970s. However, as our analysis of Proposition 47 shows, overreliance on incarceration can be harmful to communities and costly to the state. Additionally, sentencing outcomes are heavily influenced by the discretion of local criminal justice administrators — for example, police, prosecutors, and judges — which can result in a system of justice by geography. On the one hand, this can mean that where people live arbitrarily affects the likelihood they will be sentenced to a period of incarceration. On the other hand, flexibility in the system allows local jurisdictions to respond more effectively to the particular needs of their communities.

The Legislature, Administration, and judicial branch have all acknowledged a need for a more comprehensive revision of sentencing laws, but have been slow to take action, often due to disagreements over who should have what decision-making power and responsibility.

Proposition 47 presents an opportunity for voters to weigh in on one aspect of California’s sentencing structure: how to respond to certain nonviolent crimes. The measure would lead to a decline in incarceration and would invest the resulting state savings into drug and mental health treatment, school truancy and dropout prevention, and victim services. These three areas have been shown to improve public safety and could result in further criminal justice savings.

Insofar as the measure reduces criminal justice spending in the long term — both through decreased use of state prisons for nonviolent crime and through investment in local public safety solutions — California could use freed up resources to invest in critical public systems and services that are operating at severely diminished funding levels such as child care, education, and services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

— Selena Teji

Statement: Chris Hoene on the Passage of Proposition 30

November 7, 2012

The California Budget Project released the following statement from Executive Director Chris Hoene in response to the passage of Proposition 30 at yesterday’s statewide election.

“Yesterday was a very good day for the idea of laying the groundwork for California’s future. With voters approving Proposition 30, our state has taken a major step forward in stabilizing the budget and reinvesting in education and other public systems and services that are essential to all Californians. The new revenues from Proposition 30, along with those from Proposition 39, position California to turn the corner on years of severe budget shortfalls and start rebuilding the foundations of a strong economy, healthy communities, and a high quality of life.”

CBP Analysis Looks at June Ballot Measure That Would Raise Cigarette Tax

May 3, 2012

Accustomed to facing a long list of ballot measures, California voters might be pleasantly surprised to see that the June 5 statewide ballot contains only two propositions. One of these is Proposition 29, which asks California voters to approve an increase in the cigarette tax. Under Proposition 29, the cigarette excise tax would increase by $1 per pack, more than doubling the current per-pack tax of 87 cents. The proceeds of the tax – an estimated $810 million in 2013-14, the first full fiscal year after implementation ­– would support a number of tobacco-related programs, including research on cancer and other diseases.

Yesterday the CBP released an analysis of this ballot measure, Proposition 29: Should California Increase the Cigarette Tax? This publication provides key facts about the state’s current tobacco taxes, shows how the new cigarette tax revenue would be allocated, and discusses key policy issues raised by the measure. The CBP neither supports nor opposes Proposition 29. This analysis is designed to help voters make an informed decision based on the merits of the issues.

– Steven Bliss

One, Two, Three, or More?

February 17, 2012

How do the various personal income tax initiatives potentially headed to the November ballot compare? An updated version of the CBP’s memo comparing the “big three” personal income tax measures is available here. A more detailed look at each of these measures, and a host of others that may or may not be headed to a ballot near you in November, is available on the Legislative Analyst’s website.

— Jean Ross