Sentencing Policy

JS Blog Post November 2, 2015

Sentencing Parents, Sentencing Children: Trick or Treat Halloween Without Mom or Dad

Patricia Allard

“Trick or treat” are the cherished words I like to hear every year at Halloween when I open my door. Batman, Cinderella and the witch are yearly visitors, and I am always prepared with my small but tasty, chocolate treats. Many older children come knocking for their Halloween treats while their mom or dad, in some cases both parents – mom and dad, dad and dad or mom and mom – patiently wait by the curb with a watchful eye. This year a little one came to my door in her daddy’s arms, experiencing this Western tradition for the first time.  Dad urged her to utter those cherished words. The sweet girl in her cat costume shyly said in a practically indiscernible voice, “Trick or Treat”.  Her dad proudly flashed a beaming smile while the little girl lite up as I deposited M&M chocolates in her orange, plastic pumpkin container.  Watching them leave my porch, I was struck by the thought that this Halloween over 2.7 million American children were not being accompanied by their mother or father due to the cruel separation that is enforced by parental incarceration. Read more »

JS Blog Post September 30, 2015

Family Sentencing Alternatives: Oregon's New Pilot Program

Patricia Allard

Oregon is the latest state to consider the possibility of diverting parents of minor children away from prison to enable them to serve their sentence in the community under supervision. On August 12, 2015, the Oregon Governor signed into law Chapter 830 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, which gave life to the Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program (FSAPP).  The FSAPP has particular eligibility criteria, including that


  1. The person is likely to be sentenced to a prison term in the legal and physical custody of the Department of Corrections for at least one year;


  1. The person “has not previously been convicted of and is not currently being sentenced for:”


  1. A sex crime;
  2. Certain felony offenses (i.e. violent offenses) requiring a determinate sentence or a mandatory sentence; offences involving unlawful delivery of  controlled substances, including specifically to minors; or offenses involving driving while under the influence of intoxicants; and

  Read more »

JS Blog Post August 25, 2015

A letter to the judge who sentenced her father

Maria Lloyd

Maria Lloyd , 23-year old adult child of an incarcerated father, sends a poignant letter to the judge who sentenced her father to five life sentences for drug trafficking. The letter says it all.

JS Blog Post July 16, 2015

Let Our Families Have a Future: A mother's story #2

Theresa Martinez

In this video, Theresa discusses the impact that familial seperartion has had on her daughter's well-being. Theresa's incarceration resulted in years of seperation from her daughter who was forced to live a challenging existence in the foster care system. Theresa also discusses how children of color in foster care - who miss their parents so much - are over-medicated in an effort to make them more manageable. Please view Theresa's second blog post




JS Blog Post June 23, 2015

What It's Like To Spend Father's Day In Prison

Simon McCormack
Father's Day produces a complicated mix of emotions for the thousands of fathers in the U.S. who are imprisoned. "Father's Day is a uniquely difficult time of the year for me," dad and prisoner Bruce W. Harrison wrote in a note sent to The Huffington Post via nonprofit organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "It reminds me of the fact that I've served more than 20 years in federal prison. Decades of my life spent behind bars instead of time I should have been spending with my family." Harrison and three other dads shared their feelings of pain, remorse and hope with HuffPost in the heart-wrenching notes below, which have been edited for length and clarity. For a complete article turn to this link:
JS Blog Post April 23, 2015

Parental Incarceration's Destablizing Impact on Family and Community

Patricia Allard

When we speak of Family Integrity for All, we also mean family integrity for the caregivers who are compelled to step into the shoes of the parents who are incarcerated and let go of their role as grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters, etc.  I know from my experience of being raised by my grandmother, it was challenging for her in some ways. While my grandmother assumed a caregiver role, she was not alone. My mother, her daughter, was still around being a mother to me when she wasn’t away at work. So the joys of being a grandmother and a granddaughter were still experienced by my grandmother and me. I saw this vibrancy of our relationship until my grandma’s late age of 101. However, when the state incarcerates a parent, they are physically removing the parent, and other family members are forced to assume a role they were not intended to assume. What is lost of the natural, vibrancy of those relationships?  Take a look at what the experts have to say. This video from Echoes of Incarceration, Caring Through Struggle: Caregivers of Children with Incarcerated Parents, provides an incredible lens into how the criminal justice system destabilizes families and communities, but it also shows us the resilience that we hold in our spirit of resistance.

JS Blog Post April 15, 2015

Time for change: Jazree's story of parental incarceration

Patricia Allard

Brave New Films has created several short films exploring the impact of parental incarceration on children. In Jazree's Court: Growing Up With an Incarcerated Father, we meet Jazree who shares her experience of growing up without her dad. She shares some of her challenges, especially that of coming out. The film also shows the reunification between Jazree and her dad, and we can see an incredible bound of love, compassion and tenderness between them. Yet it is quite clear that the absence of her father made coming out among other trying times very daunting for Jazree.

The question remains: Are there alternatives to incarceration available in the US, which can honor family integrity for youth like Jazree? I believe there are opportunities for improvement.  We need not go to Mars to find solutions to this growing North American malaise – parental incarceration. In Australia, courts are already hearing and considering the impact of parental incarceration on children, and are afforded discretion with respect to sentencing a parent. An example of a legislative scheme in Australia can be found at: Read more »

JS Blog Post April 12, 2015

Where is the 'best interest of the child' at sentencing?

Patricia Allard

When a parent is yanked out of a child’s life by the state and incarcerated, a child is bound to experience a multitude of emotions – fear, anger, sadness, etc. It’s normal. But what is not normal, and I might add contrary to the principles of fundamental fairness, is that the child’s interest is ignored completely during a parent’s criminal proceeding. But it need not be that way, and criminal court can do better. Our legal system has established a test to determine whether the court should hear from a person interested in a particular court matter. The court asks three key questions to determine whether someone should be heard at a legal hearing (i.e. be given standing):

  1. Does the matter before the court directly affect you? Could you experience harm?

Yes, a judge sentencing a parent to a prison term means the child’s parental support, love and affection is removed from his/her life.

  1. Is there a causal connection between the action that could cause harm to the person seeking standing in the matter before the court?

Yes, the judge’s action of removing the parent and placing him/ her behind bars, sometimes very far away, harms the child emotionally, psychologically, and in many cases, physically and financially. Read more »

JS Blog Post March 12, 2015

Advancing Family Integrity for All: Sentencing Reform Affecting Parents

Patricia Allard

Following the September 4th, 2014 Hill briefing – Prioritizing the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents in the USA (see January 2015 blog posts) - co-hosted by Justice Strategies and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Justice Strategies launched a much needed campaign, Advancing Family Integrity for All. It is time to refocus our attention on the children left behind as a result of parental incarceration. Children are the silent victims of our country’s tough on crime policies. By honoring the right to family integrity of children who have a mother or father facing a possible prison term, promoting alternatives to incarcerating parents, and offering the necessary socio-economic supports to help families thrive, we can finally prioritize children, families and communities while upholding public safety.  Advancing family integrity for all enhances public safety for everyone.

Advancing Family Integrity for All seeks sentencing reform at the federal and state level. We offer the following four principles as guidance for reform:

1. At the pre-sentencing hearing of an individual convicted of an offense, the Court should be required to ask whether the person is a parent; Read more »

JS Blog Post February 26, 2015

Garnering Support for Policy Change: Family Impact Statement

Allison Hollihan, Program Manager, Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents

This blog focuses on the needs of children and how Family Impact Statements (FIS) can ensure that the needs of children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system are considered when important criminal justice decisions are made; it’s a story of progress and ongoing work to be done. A Family Impact Statement contains information about a defendant’s minor children and parenting responsibilities and describes how various sentencing options might affect these. When public safety is not compromised, FIS may support an alternative to incarceration or a shorter sentence length to minimize collateral consequences. However, FIS are not commonly used and garnering support for policy and practice change can be challenging. Here, we share how the Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents collaborated with New York State (NYS) probation professionals to encourage the inclusion of FIS in pre-sentencing investigation reports for the courts. Ultimately, we rebranded FIS as a Family Responsibility Statement (FRS) to garner the support needed to encourage the inclusion of information about a defendant’s children and parenting responsibilities in pre-sentence investigation reports developed by probation officers in New York State. Read more »

Syndicate content