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More than 81,000 children have a parent in prison in PA

An estimated 1.7 million children in the country have a parent in prison, according to a new report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Millions more may have a parent in county jail.

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WILKES-BARRE — Chris Palmer Jr., of Pottsville, was in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility when his daughter, Lilli, was born.

The jail gave him 14 hours to be there for her birth, and he didn’t see her again until she was almost 2.

“It was a lot harder to develop the relationship because she didn’t know me,” said the 28-year-old. “It took her until she was almost 5 to warm up to me.”

Last fall, Palmer Jr. went back to jail on drug charges. He said his stints behind bars have strained his relationship with his family. His father and stepmother became his daughter’s guardians in his absence.

“My dad would say I should have been around and that they had to take my responsibility because of the poor decisions I made,” he said. “It was either that or have her go into foster care and be the state’s problem.”

Palmer Jr. is scheduled to be released in May and plans to reconnect with his daughter, who will still be 5.

Aside from being placed in foster homes, many children of incarcerated parents end up in the care of family members.

“I never saw the curveball,” said Chris Palmer Sr., who is 57 and lives in the borough of Luzerne. “You don’t expect to keep up with a 5-year-old.”

Regardless of the situation, Palmer Sr. said there’s no question that his granddaughter is in the best care.

“She couldn’t be anywhere better,” he said. “She’s with her family. It’s that simple.”

Reach Jacob Seibel at 570-821-2110 or jseibel@citizensvoice.

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