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Children of incarcerated parents serve a different kind of sentence

Abigail Gipson

Nationally, Indiana has the second highest rate of children who’ve had a parent serve jail or prison time. While those mothers and fathers are doing time, their children and families are serving a different kind of sentence. 

Izaak is twelve. He has autism spectrum disorder. Amelia is eight. They’re mother and father are currently imprisoned for the third time on drug charges. 

They live with their great-grandmother, Janice Cain, who says she’s determined to care for them so the children will not face more trauma. This is a common scenario for families impacted by incarceration and struggling to re-build relationships.

Cain says she’ll continue to protect the children until she’s assured their parental environment is safe.

“It’s been rough. I’ll admit, yes, it’s been rough. And, the thing is, is going to continue to be rough. I know this. I don’t resent this. And I intend to make sure that I keep them so that they will have a decent life, until I know that their parents have actually straighten up.”

Volunteers of America Supervisor Shannon Schumacher works with incarcerated mothers and their families. She says elderly caretakers frequently face the toughest struggle and this difficult journey can sometimes lead caregivers to strongly shield the children once the parents are free.  

“Usually, the grandparent has one of two scenarios. One is, ‘I worked really hard to get this child through what has happened and I’m really nervous going back to the parent and what might happen’. Or sometimes the caregiver has an attitude of ‘please take the kids. Take them now.’”

And is some cases, the kids make decisions to avoid being hurt. Like Izaak who decided to stop visitation until he can see his parents outside the prison walls.  


At Branchville Correctional Facility, his father Westin Leach says he’s looking forward to spending time with his children following his release in a few weeks.

“He’s highly intelligent and he’s pretty much on his tough love now. I hope that I can get out and re-establish that relationship with him—re-establish that relationship with Amelia as well.”

Leach is drug-free and actively attending church services. He plans to become a drug counselor. He says there’s more to recovery than paying for your crimes.

As of December 2014, forty percent of females and almost twenty-five percent of males were incarcerated for controlled substances and recidivism rates increased to almost 38% of offenders being re-committed within 3 years of their release date, according to the Indiana Department of Corrections.

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