United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent Speaks to the Best Interests of Children of Incarcerated Parents

On Thursday, January 21st, 2016, the US Human Rights Network and the Franklin Law Group, P.C. convened a Civil Society Roundtable with the members of the UN Working Group of Experts on People     of African Descent          (UN WGEPAD) during their first official visit to the United States. This convening provided the opportunity for civil society to spotlight persistent issues of racial        discrimination in the United States,    and engage the Working Group on policy recommendations, and   lift up best practices for   replication at the state, national and international levels.  

 
The Working Group was established in 2002 by the Commission on Human Rights with a mandate to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the African Diaspora and make proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent. Its members currently include the following experts who traveled to    the U.S. - Chairperson-­?Rapporteur Ms. Mireille Fanon     Mendes (France), Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa), and Mr.  Ricardo A. Sunga III (Philippines). During its visit the UN WGEPAD focused on criminal justice issues and its spectrum of sub-­issues, along with economic social and cultural rights. The UN WGEPAD was particularly interested intersectional issues such as race and gender in all of these areas.           

Justice Strategies was honored to be invited to speak to the impact of parental incarceration that more than 2.5 million children must endure because of the United States’ stunted criminal justice policies. Here are Justice Strategies’ written and oral submissions made on January 21st in Baltimore. The oral presentation was limited to two minutes:

 

UN WGEPAD – Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

Baltimore, MD January 21, 2016

 

  • My name is Patricia Allard and I am a Senior Policy Analyst at Justice Strategies.
  • I welcome and thank the delegation for traveling to the US to consider our concerns regarding
  • The over 2.5 million children who experience parental incarceration.
  • Black children are 7.5 times more likely than white children to experience parental incarceration. (See attached fact sheet & executive summary of national report)
  • Research shows us that children who have parents in prison experience both short and long-term trauma.
  • The CERD committee in its concluding observations in 2014 called on the US government to ensure that the impact of incarceration on children is taken into account when sentencing an individual convicted of an offence and promote the use of alternatives to imprisonment. (See attached except of the 2014 Concluding Observations)  
  • Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – calls on state parties to ensure that children be heard in any judicial proceedings affecting children. See General Comment 12 of CRC (2009)
  • In the US, whether it be at the state or federal level, children’s voices need to be heard and thoughtfully considered by the judiciary before sentencing parents to prison.

Here are three easy steps to consider for sentencing reform:

  1. At a pre-sentencing hearing, the judge should be required to ask whether the person before the court is a parent.
  1. If the individual is a parent, then the judge should be required to hear and consider what the impact of incarcerating that parent will be on the child or children.
  1. After assessing all the facts before him or her, a sentencing judge should be encouraged to exercise sound judicial discretion with respect to sentencing a parent to an alternative to prison, which is likely to promote family unity (i.e. probation; education or job training programs; housing support; social, and psychotherapeutic supports; and medical supports including drug treatment).

Movement in Oregon and Washington States

While Washington and Oregon have taken steps to address the needs of children whose parents are facing a prison term, these states continue to limit the discretion of judges at sentencing (i.e. eligibility for diversion from prison is limited: (1) a parent must have physical custody of the child at the time of arrest; and/or (2) a parent convicted of a violent offence is ineligible).

For more information, contact Patricia Allard at pat [at] justicestrategies [dot] net

Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of 

Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to USA, 19-­29 January 2016

In its preliminary conclusions, following its visit to the United States, the UN WGEPAD highlighted its concern for the devastating impact that the disproportionate numbers of incarcerated mothers and fathers of African descent has had and continues to have on their children who are caught in the crossfire of the criminal justice system. As part of its conclusions, the UN WGEPAD stated that

“The costs of mass incarceration practices must be measured in human lives, and particularly the generations of young Black who serve long prison sentences and are lost to their families and communities. We also heard how mass incarceration of Black men and women has had devastating effect on their children.” 

In its preliminary recommendations, the UN WGEPAD made it clear that the United States government in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia should pay close attention to the best interest of children at the sentencing of mothers and fathers. “In imposing the sentence, the welfare of the family of the accused should be taken into account, with particular attention to the best interest of the child.”

In the fall, the UN WGEPAD is expected to submit its final recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations in New York City. We’ll keep you posted.

Patricia Allard

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