by Sumiko Saulson
Assembly Bill No. 1226, also known as the “Keep Families Close” bill, was signed into law by Gov. Newsom on July 21, 2023. The bill mandates that an incarcerated parent or legal guardian of a minor child be placed in the correctional facility that is closest to their child’s home. AB 1226 also allows already incarcerated parents to request a transfer to the prison that is closest to their child’s home. The bill doesn’t apply to individuals who are already legally restricted from child visitation. The assemblymember behind the new bill is Matt Haney, D-San Francisco.
“We know that having a relationship with parents is crucial for a child’s behavioral and emotional development and being able to see them on a regular basis – even just during visits – can make a huge difference in a young child’s life,” said Haney.
The “Keep Families Close” bill, which will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2024, is particularly relevant to families in the Black community for several reasons. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans. African American children continue to be overrepresented in foster care. In 2021, Black children represented 14% of the total child population but 22% of all kids in foster care. African Americans are also underrepresented as foster parents.
In California, thousands of incarcerated parents are placed more than 500 miles from their children and struggle to maintain contact with their children. In 2019, CDCR released information that only 25% of incarcerated people in California state prisons are placed in institutions less than 100 miles from home. The long distances place a burden on families who do not have the financial means or the time to travel across the state for family visits. Visitation falls off significantly the farther from home a person is incarcerated. Fifty percent of people placed less than 50 miles away from home receive frequent family visitation, but only 15% of people placed 500 miles away receive visitors.
Among the more than 800,000 parents in federal and state prisons, 92% are fathers. Children of incarcerated fathers most often remain living with the child’s mother. Children of incarcerated mothers most often end up with other relatives who may not live nearby, or end up in the foster care system. As a result, more than half of incarcerated mothers do not receive any visits from their children while in prison.
According to a 2000 report, “Children of Incarcerated Parents” by Charlene Wear Simmons, Ph.D., research shows that children with incarcerated mothers particularly struggle with behavioral health issues, which underscores the need for children to maintain contact with their incarcerated parents.
Sumiko Saulson is an award-winning author of Afrosurrealist and multicultural sci-fi and horror whose latest novel, “Happiness and Other Diseases,” is available on Mocha Memoirs Press. She is the winner of the HWA Scholarship from Hell (2016), BCC Voice “Reframing the Other” contest (2017), Mixy Award (2017), Afrosurrealist Writer Award (2018), HWA Diversity Grant (2020), HWA Richard Laymon Presidents Award (2021) and the Ladies of Horror Fiction Readers Choice Award (2021).