MDH, U of M and jails partner for new pilot program connecting kids with incarcerated parents

A new pilot project joining public health and jails across the state will focus on helping children and their incarcerated parents.

The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey found that nearly one in five teens in Greater Minnesota has a parent that is incarcerated, and the U of M found in 2017 that about two-thirds of adults in Minnesota jails were parents with children younger than 18.

The Northwest Minnesota region had the highest percentage of children with incarcerated parents at 22 percent.

“Given what we know about the health benefits of keeping families connected while parents are incarcerated, it’s heartening to see public health and the justice system coming together in these successful pilots to support and help families with an incarcerated parent,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham.

The project will facilitate 3,500 video visits and have parents complete parenting education programs from MDH and U of M in and out of jail.

“As we grew the program, and as we grew the connections between the incarcerated individual and their families, you could see the impact it was making,” said Bill Hutton, former executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, in the video about the project.

“I learned about how we need to see the culture change here in Minnesota and throughout the country when it comes to incarcerated caregivers.”

MDH and University of Minnesota have supported jails through the following efforts:

  • Implementing a common set of intake questions.
  • Supporting reduced-cost or free video visits for parents to talk with their children.
  • Supporting increased access to in-person visiting opportunities in some cases.
  • Implementing parenting education programs in the jail, local prison, substance abuse treatment facilities.
  • Connecting incarcerated parents and caregivers to community resources such as Family Home Visiting and Help Me Connect.
  • Inviting schools to host support groups for children who have experienced parent incarceration.
  • Strengthening relationships between jails and child protection to better support families involved in both systems.

Toolkits, presentations, courses and details about individual jail efforts are available at the MDH website Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents.

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