Children of incarcerated parents pay the price

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many of the people who serve time are parents. They have kids on the outside. A new study says one in 10 children in Tennessee has a mom or dad behind bars.

Time behind bars is taking a toll on families, and the latest Kids Count study shows just how much.

Tennessee is tied for third highest number of parents locked up in a state.

"It's one of those things if we can prevent it's great, if we can't, we need to mitigate it," says Gwendolyn Wright with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

Incarceration of a parent can have a lifelong impact on a child's mental and physical health.

It's why the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is encouraging more services to improve children's lives.

"The mental trauma of seeing your parent shot or beat up or handcuffed and taken to prison has got to take a devastating toll on a person," says Bill Gupton, Director of the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

At the Shelby County Division of Corrections, special accommodations are made to assure kids get to spend time with parents in a nonthreatening environment. There are also programs and classes that help parents become better.

"We are talking to them about interaction. We are talking about discipline. We are talking about structure. We are talking about being role models, providing for your family," said Stanley Lipford, the administrator of program services for the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

So while the Kids Count report shows high numbers of parents incarcerated in Tennessee, there are also programs working to help children caught in the middle.

"In Memphis the ACEs Foundation is working  with Universal Parenting Places," Wright said.

Putting more funding and grants toward these programs may be one way to turn the disturbing numbers around.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth also said reducing the number of people incarcerated can help. That means only locking up hardened criminals and getting treatment for those with drug or other problems.