Sign of the Times: Sesame Street Film for Children of Incarcerated Parents

The Sesame Street show that so many of us grew up with has changed considerably over the years. Old characters have moved on and news ones have shown up. But, perhaps the most significant thing the Sesame Workshop has done is a recent attempt to address the heartbreaking number of children who have a parent in prison. This is the world we live in. Where the “land of the free” is ironically the most incarcerated nation in the world, and the children are truly paying the cost.

The makers of Sesame Street have created a 30 minute documentary addressing what it’s like to have a parent locked up. This won’t be shown during regular Sesame Street programming hours (apparently, it’s a little to real), but will instead be circulated to school counselors and the like.

Sesame Street Film for Children of Incarcerated Parents“You see the mom squeezing her kid’s hand a little tighter saying ‘It’s gonna be okay,’ you explain the loud sounds you hear when the bars close, you explain all of the waiting — it’s almost like you’re trying to help some kids go through the process,” said CBS reporter Seth Doane in his interview with Melissa Dino of the Sesame Workshop.

“Absolutely,” said Dino. “It’s intimidating. You just imagine — and I’m a mother — a young child waking up to this building and the barbed wire and the guards and the guns and the security process. And it’s so intimidating and so scary.”

More than half of the people incarcerated in the U.S. are parents. Millions (nearly 3) children have at least one parent in prison. And more than 70% of these children are minorities.

These facts have incredible effects on not only the parents who are locked up, but the children themselves. The Pew Charitable Trusts report that children whose fathers have spent time in prison are far more likely to be expelled or suspended (23% compared with 4% of those children with no ties to incarceration). Also, family income is directly affected by an incarcerated parent.

Perhaps most troubling about the over-incarceration in this nation and its far-reaching effects is that a large percentage of the people behind bars are there for non-violent drug offenses. Some of them would see more benefit from drug treatment than from a prison term. In addition, at least some of those people behind bars are innocent.

How did we get to the point where this is a reasonable response an accepted response to so many parents in prison?

About David Matson