In 2013, Legal Voice championed the Children of Incarcerated Parents Act, a law that helps incarcerated parents keep their ties to their children. We know that mass incarceration has resulted in far too many families—especially families of color—being permanently separated.
But unfortunately, not all Washington courts are applying the law as it was intended. That means many parents continue to lose their parental rights due to their incarceration.
Edelyn is one of those parents. She lost the right to parent her child following her release from jail.
Legal Voice and our allies filed a “friend of the court” brief in her appeal, arguing that the lower courts failed to apply the Children of Incarcerated Parents Act to her situation. As we explained in our brief, the courts should have applied that law because it was intended to help restore families—and prevent harm to children, parents, and communities—when incarceration tears them apart.
Unfortunately the Court held that certain provisions of the law apply only if a parent is incarcerated at the time of the trail. Since Edelyn was released from jail just a few weeks before the trial, the Court held that the law did not apply to her. This means that the lower court’s termination of her parental rights still stands.
We are also troubled that Edelyn’s parental rights were terminated, in part, because of what a lower court called “unresolved domestic violence issues.” Edelyn was a victim, not a perpetrator, of domestic violence; a parent should never be blamed for domestic violence committed against her by another person.
We are proud to stand with Edelyn, who fought for her child every step of the way. We are exploring ways to fix this issue legislatively, because we know this is not an isolated incident. We will continue working to make sure that what happened to Edelyn does not happen to other Washington parents.