Unified, Safe, and Well: Building Life-Affirming Systems for Justice-Impacted Families
By Deanie Anyangwe & Alycia Hardy
According to a 2010 Pew Charitable Trust report, more than 1.1 million men and 120,000 women incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States have children under the age of 17, and 2.7 million children nationwide have one or both parents incarcerated. As more attention has been paid to the negative consequences of incarceration on families in recent years, different localities have undertaken new efforts to mitigate the impact of the criminal legal systems. Most recently, there have been federal efforts to offer alternatives to incarceration to parents and caregivers. In 2021, the OJJDP began a new grant program titled the Family-Based Alternative Sentencing Program.
In this report, we analyze the landscape for family-based alternative sentencing programs to assess the effectiveness of these programs in meeting their program goals. We specifically focused our analysis on two programs funded by OJJDP’s Families Based Alternative Sentencing Program: Lehigh County, PA and Washtenaw County, MI. Additionally, we conducted an in-depth analysis of a state-funded program in Washington County, Oregon with more longevity to get a better sense of how these programs function over time. As we outline what we have learned from the field, we will be drawing particular attention to the challenges and barriers in planning and implementation, the equity and justice-related implications of these programs, and the nuances in how these programs are functioning. In highlighting the challenges with facilitating these programs, we hope to demonstrate the need for alternatives to incarceration that address immediate needs for caregivers and children, minimize the power of the police state, and support program improvements that increase accessibility and utilization by those targeted for criminalization, all while pushing for a shift away from incarceration altogether and working toward keeping families and communities unified, safe, and well. We offer policymakers, practitioners, and advocates considerations and recommendations for non-coercive alternatives to incarceration that support the autonomy, well-being, and safety of children and families.