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Florida Near The Top For States With Parents In Prison

More children in Florida had a parent in prison than nearly anywhere else in the country, according to a report released Friday.

The latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Florida third in the nation with 312,000 children separated from a parent due to incarceration. 

Nearly 35 percent of Florida's 99,485 inmates reported having 64,848 minor children as of December 2015. Nearly 90 percent of the  inmates with children were men.  About 16 percent of inmates reported that their children lived in the same county or an adjacent county, limiting the opportunities for in-person visits.

The county with the highest number of children who have experienced an incarcerated parent is Duval County, with 5,460 reported. The lowest was Lafayette County with 18. See a full list of counties here.

Florida ranks behind California and Texas in sheer numbers, according to limited state correctional facility data that is publicly available. In terms of comparable populations, Florida is about the middle of the pack compared to other states nationally, said Florida Kids Count director Dr. Norín Dollard.

Children of incarcerated parents experience an increase in poverty and stress, which can impact their well-being as much as abuse or domestic violence, according to the report. 

"For individual children it does have ramifications on par with abuse and neglect," Dollard said. "They don't tend to fare as well academically and they're more likely to suffer mental health challenges."

She said they're also more likely to face poverty and homelessness.

“Whether you have an incarcerated parent or not, all children need to be cared for and supported in their development by responsible adults, caring professionals, and others in their communities,” said Dollard in a news release.

“But it is especially important to address the needs of children with imprisoned parents by educating the caring adults in their lives about the experience of having a parent who is imprisoned. There are roles for all involved, whether we provide better support and education to the communities from which the inmates come so their children’s development is better supported, whether geography is considered in sentencing so that families remain close by or by providing job and housing assistance to parents when they reenter their communities so that they can better provide for their families.”

The foundation’s report offers recommendations to help the children and families of parents in prison.

These include housing an inmate at a nearby prison so children can visit, and providing housing assistance after their sentence is finished. 

Not every county has a state correctional facility that can keep inmates close to their children, Dollard said, so some groups are offering virtual visitation.

"Prisons are not warm and fuzzy places you want to take your children so having virtual communication may have benefits in that way as well, so your child isn't sitting in a room with lawyers and less savory individuals."

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.