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Florence M. Kelley ’37 Family Law Prize Paper (note: this prize is awarded on the selection of Family Law teachers.(J.K. Peters) to the student who demonstrates exceptional interest or achievement in the area of family law)


Today, it is not uncommon for parents in prison—particularly those who lack economic resources and supportive family networks—to lose their parental rights while they are incarcerated.[1] The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), a federal law passed in 1997, creates incentives to move children out of foster care and into adoption placements as quickly as possible, requiring states to file petitions to terminate parental rights when children have been in foster care for fifteen of the past twenty two months.[2]Parents in prison are likely to trigger this filing deadline, as the typical sentence for an incarcerated parent is between eighty and one hundred months.[3]At the same time, practical and legal obstacles make it difficult for parents in prison to maintain contact with and plan for the future of their children, actions that become crucial if a parent is to defend herself against accusations of neglect.[4]

[1]See infranotes 75-77 and accompanying text. See alsoArlene F. Lee et al., Child Welfare League of America,The Impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act on Children of Incarcerated Parents PAGE (2005), available at studies which indicate a significant increase in the number of termination cases involving incarcerated parents since the adoption of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997; one study estimates that the increase is as high as 250%).

[2]Pub. L. No. 105-89, §103, 111 Stat. 2118-20 (codified as amended in 42 U.S.C. §675(5)).

[3]Steve Christian, Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures, Children of Incarcerated Parents PAGE (2009), available at also Kathleen S. Bean, Reasonable Efforts: What State Courts Think, 36 U. Tol. L. Rev. 321, 348-51 (2005) (noting that average prison sentences are longer than the twenty-two-months).

[4] See infrapp. 29-31.

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