Apr 30, 2012

Austin Teens Deal With Having a Parent in Prison

By Raymond Thompson
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN — Brother and sister, Andre, 16, and Chelsea Shorts, 17, are typical Austin teenagers, sharing the same concerns and dreams of youth their age. Andre dreams of being a pilot and Chelsea envisions a career in art and business.

But, unlike most youth, they live in an East Austin neighborhood where the prison admission rate is roughly five times higher than in Travis County as a whole. That fact hits home with a particular sting for young people like Andre and Chelsea, whose biological father was incarcerated for 15 years.

Like many urban American neighborhoods that have high incarceration rate, residents from lower-income areas are influenced by poverty, drugs and violence. These environments can act as roadblocks between children and their dreams.

According to the Sentencing Project, children of incarcerated parents have a higher chance of dropping out, committing juvenile offenses, and going to prison. Since 1991 there has been an 82 percent increase in the number of children with imprisoned parents. Nationally, 1 in 43 American children have a parent in prison or jail. The numbers become more extreme when they are broken down by race. For whites, 1 in 111 children have a parent imprisoned, for blacks it is 1 in 15.

The Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections, produced by the Justice Mapping Center, shows that in the 78721 zip code in East Austin, the prison admission rate is 22.61 per 1,000. Overall for Travis County, the rate is 4.10 per 1,000. Across Austin in the more affluent 78746 zip code, the rate is only .19 per 1,000.

“The ‘hood can be a black hole, and if you let it suck you in then you’re just going to come out like everybody else,” Chelsea said. “Stuck. It gets harder and harder for you to dig yourself out of that hole.”