The Arizona State Supreme Court on Friday ruled that child-welfare officials must offer reunification services to certain inmates before terminating parental rights.
The ruling states that officers constitutionally must provide services, like visitation between parent and child, to inmates facing long prison sentences.
Specifically, the case examined the circumstances of a father whose parental rights to two young children were ended by a lower court. In the ruling, the Justices maintained the termination of rights due to the children’s best interest; however, while issuing the decision on the appeal, the Court established the reunification services requirement.
Prior to the ruling, Arizona law did not require the state to offer services to continue the relationship between parents, who are inmates, and children.
However, based on a previous Supreme Court ruling, “Parents enjoy a fundamental liberty interest in ‘the care, custody, and management’ of their children.”
“The state has a vital interest in the status of the parent-child relationship and, because of the importance of this interest, the state may intrude into the parent-child relationship to protect the welfare of the child and the state’s own interest in the welfare of its citizens” the ruling stated.
However, the Justices maintained the right of the judiciary to terminate parental rights under some circumstances.
“A court may terminate parental rights under certain circumstances, so long as the parents whose rights are to be severed are provided with ‘fundamentally fair procedures’ that satisfy due process requirements,” the opinion continued.
While the Court acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain a relationship with their children while in prison, the Justices expressed that “an incarcerated parent can maintain a bond with a child in other ways, such as through visits, phone calls, letters, pictures, and gifts.”
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