Legislation is endorsed by nearly 40 criminal justice, civil rights and child welfare organizations

Washington (November 9, 2023) — Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) in reintroducing legislation that would create an alternative to incarceration for eligible parents and caregivers and provide them the resources needed to keep their children safely at home instead of in the foster care system. 

“Children should not be subjected to trauma and uncertainty caused by a broken criminal justice system, which at times needlessly splits up families,” said Senator Wyden. “I’m proud to once again join Representative Jayapal in introducing legislation to expand the work of successful programs in our home states to reduce mass incarceration nationwide and help keep more families together.”

“America’s broken criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities, breaking up families and adding to our country’s mass incarceration problem,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s time for us to finally prioritize policies that deliver humane alternatives and shrink the world’s largest prison population, which is why I’m so proud to reintroduce the FAMILIES Act. This legislation, proudly modeled after programs in Washington and Oregon that have reduced recidivism, will divert parents and caregivers from incarceration and invest in their wellbeing with comprehensive services so that we can keep families together and provide resources to ensure their safety and success.”

The Finding Alternatives to Mass Incarceration: Lives Improved by Ending Separation (FAMILIES) Act would allow 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 already kept hundreds of families together and have been vital to reducing recidivism.

The FAMILIES Act establishes a 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 health care, housing assistance, and other potential public benefits.

To be eligible, an 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. When considering eligibility for the FAMILIES program, courts will consider 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.

In the Senate, the legislation was cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

In the House, the legislation was cosponsored by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), David Trone (MD-06), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Troy A. Carter (LA-02), Jonathan L. Jackson (IL-01), Henry "Hank" Johnson (GA-04), Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (IL-04).

The legislation is endorsed by: The Sentencing Project, AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families, Vera Institute of Justice, Drug Policy Alliance, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Counsel for Children, National Working Positive Coalition, Community Liver Alliance, National Council of Churches, National Center on Adoption and Permanency, PrEP4All, CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Washington Office on Latin America, StoptheDrugWar.org, Union for Reform Judaism, Safer Foundation, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, WE GOT US NOW, Washington Defender Association (Seattle, Wash.), the Osborne Association (New York, N.Y.), the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents (New York, N.Y.), CARES of Southwest Michigan (Kalamazoo, Mich.), Sponsors Inc. (Eugene, Ore.), Center For Community Alternatives (New York, N.Y.), A New PATH (Spring Valley, Calif.), Black and Pink Massachusetts (Boston, Mass.), Partners for Our Children (Seattle, Wash.), National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-Maryland Chapter (Baltimore, Md.), AIDS Foundation Chicago (Chicago, Ill.), Operation Restoration (New Orleans, La.), Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (Oakland/Los Angeles. Calif.), Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (Seattle, Wash.), Treatment Action Group (Chicago, Ill.), Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice (Chicago, Ill.), AIDS Action Baltimore (Baltimore, Md.), Philadelphia Family Pride (Philadelphia, Pa.), Hep Free Hawai'i (Honolulu, Hi.) and AIDS Alabama (Birmingham, Ala.).

Statements of Support

Isabel Coronado, Chair of Campaign to Keep Families Together said, "For too long, criminal justice reform has primarily focused on the incarcerated, leaving the children of the incarcerated as an afterthought. The Families Act addresses this oversight by offering an encouraging example of moving beyond traditional forms of punishment, which inflict years of needless trauma on children, and instead, it explores alternatives that keep families together. Through this legislation, we can invest in the next generation and provide millions of children with the opportunity to thrive, despite their parents' convictions." 

Ebony Underwood, Founder and CEO of WE GOT US NOW said, "For decades children have been separated from their parents due to harsh and cruel policies of incarceration. The Families Act stops this cycle in its tracks with a solution that not only ensures the well-being of the parent through sentencing alternatives, but ensures that the children of the parent are also provided with necessary supports in the process. WE GOT US NOW believes that society must stop incarcerating our way out of problems and understand that children need their parents and some parents need a little more support than others. The Families Act is a legislative effort that acts as a turnkey solution to keeping families connected, creating fair sentencing, and empowering families and communities."

The text of the bill is here.