Wyden, Jayapal Introduce New Legislation to Provide Alternatives to Incarceration for Parents and Caregivers to Keep Families Together, Children Out of Foster Care

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., today introduced new legislation to create an alternative to incarceration for eligible parents and caregivers and provide them the resources they need so their children can stay safely at home instead of entering the foster care system.


The Finding Alternatives to Mass Incarceration: Lives Improved by Ending Separation Act (FAMILIES Act) wouldallow federal judges to divert parents and caregivers from incarceration into a comprehensive program that would better serve them, their families and society by offering resources, services and training to meet their unique needs. The legislation is modeled after successful programs in Oregon and Washington state that have kept hundreds of families together and been key to reducing recidivism.


“America’s criminal justice system is failing families, too often defaulting to unnecessary prison time that rips families apart and so often results in irreparable trauma,” Wyden said. “Instead of needlessly incarcerating parents and caregivers, we need to help folks rebuild their lives and help families thrive together. Prioritizing families not prisons will make our communities safer.”

“As we prepare for a new administration who campaigned on reforming a broken criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts Black and brown families, we need to prioritize policies that shrink the world’s largest prison population, deliver humane alternatives to mass incarceration and strengthen communities,” said Jayapal. “Proudly modeled after a successful program in Washington that has been proven to reduce recidivism, the FAMILIES Act establishes a new federal program that diverts parents and caregivers from incarceration while keeping families together and investing in their wellbeing by offering resources, services and trainings to meet their individual needs.”

The FAMILIES Act establishes a FAMILIES diversion program that includes education, employment services, parenting skills, mental health and substance abuse services. It also addresses basic needs of the individual and their family by connecting them with access to health care, housing assistance and other potential public benefits.

An eligible individual must be pregnant, a parent of a minor child, a caregiver for a minor child or other minor relative, a caregiver for an individual with disabilities or a caregiver for an elderly family member. When considering eligibility for the FAMILIES program, courts will take into account the individual’s significant parental or caregiver responsibilities, their history of justice involvement, the safety of their family and a family impact statement describing the impact that a prison sentence would have on the family of the defendant. Judges will receive training in implementing the FAMILIES program including training on trauma-informed decision making, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, substance abuse and addiction, and mental health.

A summary of the FAMILIES Act can be found here.

A section-by-section of the legislation can be found here

Legislative text can be found here.

A web version of this release is here.

The Sentencing Project Director of Strategic Initiatives Kara Gotsch: “In the United States the incarceration of mothers and fathers can result in numerous negative outcomes for children, ranging from depression and anxiety to anger and aggression. Initiatives, like the FAMILIES Act, will protect public safety and keep families together by diverting parents from incarceration and providing them the services and programming they need to be successful. The Sentencing Project is pleased to support this critical legislation.” 

Justice Strategies Director Judy Greene: “The devastating impact of mass incarceration on families requires effectively-tailored approaches that both reduce prison populations and assist children. Parental incarceration can result in negative outcomes for children as they grow into adulthood including mental health problems, school failure and antisocial and delinquent behavior. Washington and Oregon among other states — are providing a solution. Judges are empowered to allow people charged with criminal offenses who are responsible for care of minor children to avoid imprisonment, instead placing them under community supervision with treatment and services that promote good parenting and healthy child development. The FAMILIES Act will help more states implement this important program saving funds and helping parents, children and their communities thrive.”

Isabel Coronado, a child of incarcerated parents, a citizen of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation, and a policy entrepreneur at Next100: “For too long, criminal justice reform has only focused on the incarcerated; we need to focus on the children of the incarcerated who are too often treated as an afterthought. The Families Act does just that. The Families Act is an encouraging example of moving past traditional forms of punishment that inflict years of needless trauma on children, and look to alternatives that keep families together. Through this legislation, we can invest in the next generation and give millions of children the opportunity to thrive despite their parents’ conviction.” 

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt: “Public safety is much more than making arrests and getting convictions. When the criminal justice system separates a mother, father or guardian from a child because of a non-violent offense we are simultaneously handing down a life-altering sentence to the child. We must do everything to prevent irreparable harm to families and to support parents by providing treatment, services and enhanced community supervision. I strongly support the FAMILIES Act and commend U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal for their initiatives on supporting families and protecting and advancing public safety.”

Partnership for Safety and Justice (Oregon) Deputy Director Shannon Wight: “The criminal justice system tears families apart when parents and caregivers are incarcerated. Building off local initiatives from Washington and Oregon, the FAMILIES Act is a step in the right direction for the nation. We can  prevent this painful and unnecessary practice of separating families and instead provide support to families so they can grow and thrive.”

Washington Defender Association Executive Director Christie Hedman: “The Washington Defender Association (WDA) is thrilled to support a federal effort to divert parents from prison. Washington was the first state to implement an alternative sentencing program for parents—allowing parents to remain in the community with their children, recognizing that individuals can be held accountable outside of prisons, and the importance of keeping families together in order to reduce negative impacts on children. It’s success led WDA and our community partners to urge legislators to expand eligibility in 2020 so that more parents can participate in this critical program. It is our hope that more states will adopt this option that not only to supports parents and children, but also the long-term well-being of our entire community.”

The Insight Alliance Founder and Director Anna Debenham: “The Insight Alliance has championed the FAMILIES Act since we first learned about it. Keeping families together and providing parents with training and resources is essential to strengthening our communities. This legislation is an important step for our country in addressing the devastating impacts mass incarceration has had.”

The FAMILIES Act is endorsed by: AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families; Broken No More; Campaign for Youth Justice; Caring Ambassadors Program; CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants); Drug Policy Alliance; Family Equality; Global Liver Institute; Justice Strategies; Law Enforcement Action Partnership; NAACP; National Association of Counsel for Children; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Association of Social Workers; National Black Women’s HIV/AIDS Network; National Center for Transgender Equality; National Center on Adoption and Permanency; National Council of Churches; National Crittenton; National Juvenile Justice Network; National Legal Aid and Defender Association; National Working Positive Coalition; Next100; Safer Foundation; StoptheDrugWar.org; The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls; The Osborne Association; The Sentencing Project; Treatment Action Group; Union for Reform Judaism; Washington Office on Latin America; WE GOT US NOW; Witness to Mass Incarceration Inc.; Woodhull Freedom Foundation; AIDS Alabama (Birmingham, Ala.); ASU Center for Child Well-Being (Phoenix, Ariz.); A New PATH (Spring Valley, Calif.); CAN-DO Foundation (Malibu, Calif.); Center for Living and Learning (Van Nuys, Calif.); Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (Oakland/Los Angeles. Calif.); POPS the Club (Los Angeles, Calif.); DanceSafe (Lakewood, Colo.), Second Chance Center (Aurora, Colo.), Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc. (Windsor, Conn.), Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop (Washington, D.C.); Mommie Activist and Sons (Washington, D.C.); The Taifa Group (Washington, D.C.); FedCURE (Plantation, Fla.), KidsMates (Boca Raton, Fla.), Black Futurists Group (Atlanta, Ga. ); Georgia AIDS Coalition (Snellville, Ga.), Community Alliance on Prisons (Honolulu, Hawaii); Department of Health’s Sex and Gender Minority Work Group (Honolulu, Hawaii); Hawai‘i Friends of Restorative Justice (Honolulu, Hawaii); Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center (Honolulu, Hawaii); Hep Free Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii); AIDS Foundation Chicago (Chicago, Ill.); HIV Modernization Movement-Indiana (Indianapolis, Ind.); Operation Restoration (New Orleans, La.); Black & Pink, Massachusetts (Boston, Mass.); Fenway Institute (Boston, Mass.); Health in Justice Action Lab, Northeastern University School of Law (Boston, Mass.); Justice For Housing (Jamaica Plain, Mass.); Strategies for Youth (Cambridge, Mass.); Charm City Care Connection (Baltimore, Md.); National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-Maryland Chapter (Baltimore, Md.); Reproductive Justice Inside (Baltimore, Md.); Woodhull Freedom Foundation (Silver Spring, Md.); CARES of Southwest Michigan (Kalamazoo, Mich.); Citizens for Prison Reform (Lansing, Mich.); Movement Advancement Project (Ann Arbor, Mich.); We Rise (St Paul, Minn.); Reaching & Educating for Community Hope (RECH) Foundation (Jackson, Miss.); Women Who Never Give Up Inc. (Moorestown, N.J.); Center for Community Alternatives (New York, N.Y.); Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood (Hudson, N.Y.); Hondurans Against AIDS (New York, N.Y.); Hour Children (Long Island City, N.Y.); New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Silent Cry Inc. (New York, N.Y.); The Correctional Association of New York (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Truth Pharm Inc. (Binghamton, N.Y.); Worth Rises (New York, N.Y.); Partnership for Safety and Justice (Portland, Ore.), Oregon Justice Resource Center (Portland, Ore.); Sponsors, Inc. (Eugene, Ore.); Amachi Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Community Liver Alliance (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Philadelphia Family Pride (Philadelphia, Pa.); Free Hearts (Nashville, Tenn.); Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (Austin, Texas): Partners for Our Children (Seattle, Wash.); Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (Seattle, Wash.); Washington Defender Association (Seattle, Wash.); and What’s Next Washington (Seattle, Wash.).