Oregon State Continues to Lead in Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents

Oregon continues to lead in providing support for children of incarcerated parents. A recent training “Incarcerated Parents: Don’t Forget About Me” given earlier this month by Oregon Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Administrator of Programs & Social Support Services and the Department of Human Services (DHS) reflects a tone of changing attitudes often possessed by child welfare and prison staff. Specifically, the second and third slides of the presentation with their beliefs include:

  • Visitation directly correlates with success upon reentry.
  • Children benefit from seeing their parents.
  • There are upsides to working with incarcerated parents.
  • Contact is part of our Practice Model and should be prioritized.

This training comes about a year after Oregon’s governor signed into law a “Bill of Rights of Children of Incarcerated parents” on September 19th. According to an article on the legislation, an estimated 70,000 Oregon children have an incarcerated parent in prison, affecting youth of color and youth in poverty disproportionately, with 1 in 9 being children of color and 1 in 8 children living in poverty. Many of these families will also have to navigate family law and child weflare systems in addition to the usual barriers of distance that makes visitation or maintaining connections. The many institutional barriers famlies face leads to unnecessary trauma. The Bill of Rights requires Oregon’s state agencies, human services and the criminal justice and foster care systems to create policies that reduce trauma experienced by children and help keep and maintain ties between parents and their children. California passed a similar law in 2009.

Oregon’s bill of rights comes after years of various changes that serve to aid parents. Oregon is also the originator of the curriculum, “Parenting Inside Out” and has a pilot alternative sentencing program supporting families facing parental incarceration. Oregon’s Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program, House Bill 3503 (2015), established a partnership between the Oregon Department of Corrections and the Oregon Department of Human Services to create a court-based diversion program. In the community-based program, non-violent primary parents in five participating counties facing prison sentences can be diverted from prison in order to continue parenting. A 2018 legislative report and 2019 report describe how the original program was expanded in 2017 and that restrictions limiting participation be removed, such as removing language that restricts individuals with prior felonies. For the past two years, the Washington State Legislature has considered whether their own Alternative Sentencing Law (Family Offender Sentencing Program) should be expanded to individuals regardless of crime. With last year the law passing out of the Washington State Senate but not the House of Representatives. For more information on the Parenting Alternative Sentencing program in Washington, check out a past blog on the need for expansion here and on the current program here.

Overall, Oregon is continuing to take the lead and establishing trainings and coordinated programs across agencies in order to support families facing parental incarceration.

Quick Links to Resources Mentioned Above:

Riley Hewko, Esq.


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