The family, however defined, is vulnerable, on a number of levels, to the collateral consequences of criminal charges. A family may be split temporarily or even permanently by a parent or a child’s incarceration. Criminal charges can affect a family’s composition, a family’s source of income and future employment, a family’s housing and more. Some scholars argue indeed that those harmed the most by criminal charges are the poor, women, and persons of color, regardless of who is the offender.
Parents who go to prison can lose custody of, or visitation with, their children. Ultimately, incarcerated parents who do not have a family member to care for their children, and who must therefore depend upon the foster care system, risk having their parental rights terminated, if they are incarcerated for a lengthy period of time. One possible way to prevent this is to have a family member who is willing to become the child’s foster parent. However, rights to be a foster/adoptive parent or a kinship foster parent are significantly curtailed if anyone living in the household has a criminal conviction. Similarly, Section 8 housing subsidies, or other public benefits, can cease if someone within the household has a criminal conviction. A lack of adequate housing is a factor when Judges consider custody and extended visitation.
There are additional issues regarding child and spousal support. Child support arrearages continue to build even while someone is incarcerated, and such debts cannot be discharged through bankruptcy proceedings. After the parent is released, he will continue to be obligated to pay child support, even if his criminal conviction prevents him from being able to locate a job in his field or a license to perform his job. Perhaps a parent is now listed on the State Central Registry or the Sex Offender Registry, further limiting her access to employment options and rights.
A person who goes to prison may also lose the right to marry. In New York, those incarcerated with a life sentence are considered “civilly dead,” and are not allowed to marry. Prisoners who were married when they came to prison may be sued for divorce, and state laws generally make it relatively easy for the non-incarcerated spouse to divorce a prisoner.
There are also many collateral consequences and ramifications to juvenile delinquency findings. At this time, there are several links to relevant websites and law review articles in the juvenile delinquency context.