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Ruling: Prisoners must be offered services to remain parents

October 8, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona child-welfare officials considering whether to terminate parental rights of inmates facing long prison terms have a constitutional duty to offer reunification services to those prisoners who want to try to keep their children, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Though Arizona law doesn’t require the state to offer reunification services to help maintain bonds between prisoner-parents and children, it’s necessary because a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision said parents have a “”fundamental liberty interest” in the care, custody and management of their children, the Arizona justices said.

The Arizona justices acknowledged that their ruling’s requirement for offering reunification services to prisoners serving long sentences departs from a 2005 state Court of Appeals ruling.

It’d be difficult to maintain parental relationships while separated, “”but an incarcerated parent can maintain a bond with a child in other ways, such as through visits, phone calls, letters, pictures, and gifts,” the ruling said.

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The justices considered the reunification issue as part of an father’s appeal of a juvenile court’s termination of his parental rights to two young children. Though the court misapplied two legal standards, other circumstances and the childens’ best interests still warranted termination so they could be adopted by a family, the ruling said.