State Rep.-Elect Krajewski’s first bill says families should not be separated by mass incarceration

HARRISBURG, Dec. 17 – State Rep.-Elect Rick Krajewski will introduce his first bill in the new legislative session aimed at criminal justice reform to better protect the children of incarcerated people.  

In addition to the known collateral damages of incarceration, a 2011 report by the Joint State Government Commission showed having a loved one in prison has a traumatic impact on a family, for both the child and parent. 

“As someone with a stepfather who was incarcerated, I understand firsthand how this experience can affect a family,” Krajewski said. “The uncertainty of when you will see them again, the emotional impact on loved ones, the damage done through the unnecessary severance of a child’s connection to their parent are all hardships no one should face, yet so many in our Commonwealth suffer through this reality daily. But it doesn’t have to be this way. My legislation is a commonsense approach to change the status quo, and the result will be healthier children and healthier families that compose healthier communities.” 

In December 2011, almost 2 million children had an incarcerated parent and more than 60% of women held in prisons and jails had a minor child. Black children were seven-and-a-half times more likely than white children to have an incarcerated parent. These numbers have increased during the past decade. 

“So, while the effects of having an incarcerated parent continue to leave inerasable marks on children across our commonwealth – including on their mental and emotional health, as well as on their physical well-being, given the financial setbacks thrust upon their family – the legislature has not moved the mark to help these children and these families,” Krajewski said. “But the legislature can influence what happens to these children and these families, and I believe my legislation can be part of a solution.” 

The 2011 report by the Joint State Government Commission titled: "The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services," provided three recommendations that involved legislative changes. Despite the report being a bipartisan effort, the legislative changes have not been implemented, though the bill was introduced as H.B. 664 last session by retiring state Rep. Thomas Murt. Krajewski said he will reintroduce the legislation to enact those recommendations. 

First, the legislation would ensure that parental incarceration is not the sole basis on which a decision for involuntary termination of parental rights is made, adding to existing exclusions such as environmental factors and medical care if found to be beyond the control of the parent. 

Second, it would give the court the authority when determining whether the rights of an incarcerated parent should be terminated to consider if the parent is trying, to the extent 

feasible, to comply with the family service plan requirements and otherwise maintaining a meaningful role in the child's life during the time of incarceration. 

And third, it would provide for the training of law enforcement officers to ensure child safety upon the arrest of a parent or guardian, establish guidelines for the identification of minor or dependent children upon arrest, and give the Pennsylvania State Police and Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission the responsibility to develop and maintain arrest protocol training programs for people with minor or dependent children.