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WHEN THE COST IS TOO GREAT: THE EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT ON CHILDREN OF INCARCERATING THEIR PARENTS FOR DRUG OFFENCES

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Abstract

The advent of the modern “war on drugs” and its accompanying “lock 'em up and throw away the key” crime policies largely explain the evolution of mass incarceration in the U.S. and account for much of the emotional and psychological pain caused to children who have lost their parents to long prison sentences. It is by reducing reliance on incarceration to tackle the “drug problem” in the United States that there will be a positive impact on reducing the number of parents being separated from their children for inordinate amounts of time, thereby potentially reducing the negative emotional and psychological impact on children. Aiding parents combat their addiction outside of prison walls is perhaps to most sensible criminal justice policy in addressing the needs of children who are caught in the cross-fire of the war on drugs. In the meantime, as policy makers review, assess, and, eventually, reform draconian drug laws and sentencing policies, it is imperative that front-line service providers who work with children and family and juvenile court judges be mindful of the emotional and psychological impact that parental incarceration has on youth. A more in-depth understanding of the complexities of these young people's life experiences will hopefully enable the development of appropriate support services.

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