Monday, April 12, 2010

Parenting Programs For Prisoners to Expand

JEFFERSON CITY - Parenting Corners offer advice and information to parents in prison. Access points will be placed in the visiting areas of 21 prisons throughout the state.

The program aims to help offenders remain or become connected to their children and families throughout their time in prison. It's about rehabilitating offenders, not just as citizens, but as parents.

The corners are to be stocked with research based pamphlets that cover nine different topics that can relate to both the parent and child. The themes include, basic child development, legal, education, substance abuse prevention, mental health, exercise and nutrition, safety,and special populations.

The program hopes to help parents transition as they come into the prison system, and as they are released. "Just because I'm in prison doesn't mean I'm not still a father or not still a mother," ParentLink Carol Mertensmeyer said. "They still take that role very seriously."

Children whose parents are imprisoned are seven times for likely to enter into the prison system. They often suffer emotionally and physically, children mourn the loss of their parent. "We know how important it is to have those adults in our lives, and then just poof, you know, just coldly," Mertensmeyer said. "You know, they're gone and it's traumatic."

ParentLink believes the corners will ease the trauma of losing a parent, and end the cycle of incarceration. "It's important for any child to know that their parent is thinking of them, and caring about them, and establishing that relationship. Even if it's for the first time," said Meg Roohouse, avtivity coordinator.

And with more than 95 percent of offenders released from prison, it's important to prepare parents for rentry into their community and a reunion with their family.

"Maybe parents made some mistakes, and hopefully that parent has figured out what those mistakes were while incarcerated, so they can go out and give their child a happy life," said Veronica Stuvall, awareness project manager.

There are currently two prisons with parenting corners at a men's and a women's correction facilities. The programs were met with warm welcomes and great appreciation from inmates and officers. After such a success, the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, George Lombardi and ParnetLink worked together expand the program.

The Missouri Department of Corrections hopes to see parenting corners in every correctional and parole facility in the state.

ParentLink is affiliated with the University of Missouri, but receive funding from grants. 'The Parenting Corner' is also funded by grants and is being build by inmates from the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green.

ParentLink offers a wide variety of services for parents and families throughout Missouri.

Visit ParentLink's website to see all of the services they provide

You can also call ParentLink toll-free at 1-800-552-8522.

Pennsylvania quietly shipping prisoners out of state

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Dawn had barely broken when prison guards shook Raheem Tucker awake and told him to pack his belongings and board a bus that would be taking him to another institution 500 miles away: the Muskegon Correctional Facility in western Michigan.

“He didn't get any other warning,” said his father, Rob Tucker, 56, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, “and he didn't get any say-so. We only found out because a friend of his called us to tell us.”

That is how Pennsylvania Corrections officials say they must handle the delicate – and controversial – task of shipping 2,100 inmates out of state as a way to ease an overcrowding problem that has reached near-crisis proportions.

So far, 1,633 inmates have been transferred to Michigan and Virginia, the two states that Pennsylvania has contracted with to accept its prisoners. The remaining 467 will be moved by the end of the month.

“Sending inmates out of state was a last resort, but we became so overwhelmed that I became concerned about the safety of the system,” said state Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard. “We couldn't go on the way we have been.”

Although Pennsylvania's prison population has been on the rise for decades, it has jumped dramatically just in the last five years – so much so that corrections officials say the four prisons under construction will be at capacity as soon as they open in 2013.

According to state Department of Corrections figures, the population increased an eye-popping 523 percent between 1980 and 2009, from 8,243 to 51,326. Just between 2006 and 2009, the number jumped almost 21 percent.

That increase was only compounded when, in 2008, Gov. Rendell issued what ended up being a two-month moratorium on paroles after a paroled felon killed a Philadelphia police officer.
During that time, prisoners kept entering the system, but none were being released. Even after the moratorium was lifted, the parole rate – which had hovered for years about 62 percent – fell to a low of 37 percent.

“The parole rate is rebounding,” said Beard, “but if nothing changes, we'll still be in as bad a shape in 2013 that we are today, even with the new prisons.”

Overcrowding comes with a price tag: The Corrections Department has requested $1.9 billion in state funding for fiscal 2010-11. That alone would make up almost 7 percent of the state's overall $29 billion in proposed general-fund spending.

That is why, late last year, Beard announced the state was moving 2,000 prisoners to out-of-state lockups: half to the Muskegon facility in Michigan and the remainder to the Green Rock prison in Chatham, Va.

The announcement immediately raised questions about how inmates would be selected for the transfer, and ignited concerns that it would be costly and do nothing to deal with the broader problem of too many inmates entering state prisons.

And there have been bumps since the transfers began: At least 75 inmates have been returned because of health and other issues.

“This business of sending people out of state is not only a tremendously expensive strategy of dealing with the problem, it will do little to alleviate dangerous overcrowding in the long term,” said Bill DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a private nonprofit that advocates for prisoners and for improvements to the criminal-justice system.

DiMascio is among a growing number of officials in the corrections world – Beard included – pushing for alternatives to incarceration, including community-based treatment for low-level offenders.

As it stands now, the majority of available bed space in state prisons – about 52 percent – is occupied by nonviolent offenders and parole violators, according to the state corrections office.

But such changes would require legislative action, and lawmakers have been slow, if not downright reluctant, to tackle them.

“The concern is the perception that we're turning soft on crime,” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), who is pushing a package of bills to change sentencing and parole rules.
“But we can still be tough on crime while at the same time be smart on crime,” he added.

Short of legislative changes, corrections officials say they had to do something to address overcrowding.

Pennsylvania decided to contract with prisons in Virginia and Michigan because of their proximity, corrections officials said.

Prisoners chosen for the transfer were ones who receive “none to few visits,” have no medical or mental-health concerns, and have more than two years to serve on their sentence, said Corrections Department spokeswoman Susan Bensinger.

Bensinger acknowledged that prisoners get little notice that they are being transferred. The reason, she said, is simple: security.

“We would never want an inmate calling outside people and saying, 'Hey they are putting me on a bus tonight,' “ she said.

On days that inmates are being moved, the entire prison goes into lockdown, Bensinger said. The prisoners – all men – are then boarded onto unmarked buses, and handcuffed and shackled for the ride to their new facility.

Once inmates arrive there, they receive form letters telling them where they are and how they can contact their families.

Pennsylvania intends to bring them back by 2013.

“Moving is a traumatic event, but the majority of inmates are content now that they've settled in,” said Bensinger, the Corrections Department spokeswoman. “But we know it's impossible to make everyone happy.”

Tucker, the Northeast Philadelphia resident whose son was moved to Michigan in February, said the transfers are not just hard on prisoners. They are gut-wrenching for families, too.

Before, he and other family members would rent a van once or twice a year and drive to Greene County in Western Pennsylvania, where Raheem used to be confined.
Now, he will have to fly.

“It's hard,” Tucker said. “I have diabetes and high blood pressure, and backaches. And it costs a lot of money for a whole family to fly.”

Joann Thigpen, 65, who lives in North Philadelphia, also has a son who was transferred.
Her son Willie had been serving time on a drug offense in the state prison near the Poconos when he was awakened one morning in February and told he was being moved to Virginia.

Thigpen said she had such bad arthritis that it was difficult to travel two hours when her son was in Pennsylvania. Instead, she went to the Pennsylvania Prison Society's Philadelphia offices to do a “virtual visit” through video with her son.

It angers her that that ended up penalizing her son, who was considered to have few visitors.
“I know that they have to do what they have to do, but it's not fair,” Thigpen said. “Our children may be in jail, but we're parents, too.”

Family and focus helped him beat the odds

Major national award recognizes Smiley High grad

Houstonian Devon Wade, 20, is the first black student at LSU to receive the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a $30,000 award.

By society's standards, Devon Wade should have been another grim statistic.

He's a young black male. He grew up in a northeast Houston low-income neighborhood infested with violence. And both his parents were behind prison bars for most of his life.

But it turns out that the 20-year-old Wade is, indeed, a statistic. A graduate of M.B. Smiley High School in the North Forest district, he's the first African-American student at Louisiana State University to receive the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship Award.

The competitive award honors college juniors who show leadership potential. About 60 students across the country are selected each year and receive $30,000 to pursue graduate study in public service fields.

But for Wade, a straight-A student, the award is less about money and more about setting an example for other young black scholars.

“They can say, ‘Hey, if he can do it, I can do it,' ” Wade said.

In his neighborhood, lack of encouragement and complacency keeps many young people from looking beyond their world, he said. People often told him he would end up like his parents, but he made up his mind in middle school that his life would be different.

All it took was some tangible school recognition — candy and a coupon to Jack in the Box.

“I always did good in school but I didn't care,” Wade said. “When they honored me for doing good and making honor roll, I said, ‘They're going to reward me?' That was a changing factor in my life. That's when I became passionate about education.”
Raised by grandparents

While Wade's mind was on his studies, his heart yearned for the life he saw on TV — two parents at home, sitting around the Christmas tree with their children.

“I've always longed for that,” said Wade, whose boyish face belies his 6-foot-1-inch height. “I don't care if I'm 40 years old when it happens. I still want that.”

Wade has never met his father because he is in federal prison. His mother has been in and out of state prison throughout his life. His maternal grandparents raised him, his identical twin and two younger brothers, who are in college and high school. His granny made sure the four brothers had contact with their parents. The boys exchanged letters with their father and visited their mother in prison.

He said he never talked about his parents being incarcerated because of the stigma. “People look down on you and treat you different. I didn't want people feeling sorry for me.”

He bottled up his emotions, which felt like he was carrying around a weight, and some days he felt depressed, he said. “Those are times when you need someone to talk to,” he said.

In high school, Wade, then 15, turned to No More Victims Inc., a Houston nonprofit that provides support for youths whose parents are incarcerated.

The group's founder, Marilyn Gambrell, remembers the quiet and shy boy who didn't say much during meetings but was always observant and attentive. He also was angry back then and got into fights, she said.

“But all the brilliance we knew was there is now spilling over,” Gambrell said proudly. “He's so expressive, well-spoken and confident.”

The program, Wade said, taught him how to deal with his problems and move on with his life. He served as student body president and band drum major, ran track, was a member of the National Honor Society and graduated magna cum laude. He also was accepted to all six universities he applied to and collected more than $100,000 in scholarships.

He's now working on double majors — sociology with a concentration on criminal justice, and African-American studies — and on a thesis on how the stigma of having incarcerated parents affects children's education.
Travel opportunities

Last summer Wade studied in Africa, where he honed his fluency in Swahili. This summer he'll participate in a research program at the University of Chicago and will be on track to graduate early in December. His goal is to become an FBI agent.

“I'm just so proud of my boy,” said his mother, Suzanne Wade, who was paroled last year and recently completed a commercial driving certificate program at Houston Community College. “I've always told him to not travel down my path, to continue to think positive, do good and stay focused. I'm grateful he's on the right track.

“I owe my parents a great deal,” she said. “All my boys are doing great.”

Wade, who is active on his college campus, never misses an opportunity to give back. He mentors students in No More Victims and in a community program in Louisiana.

“I had to go through so much I didn't want to go through,” he said. “It's important for those who make it out to come back. That's what the community lacks.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Parent-child contact during incarceration

Staying in Touch

An examination of the 1997 survey data on state prisoners indicates that most children’s contact with their parents in prison is irregular or nonexistent.
Since being admitted to prison, more than half of parents with minor children had never seen any of their children.

Gender and ethnicity are associated with the likelihood that incarcerated parents will maintain contact.

It is likely that the number of children who had not seen their parents since they entered prison is higher than this number reflects. This is because parents provided information for at least one of their children, but not necessarily for all of them. Since many parents with two or more children had different levels of contact with them prior to imprisonment, these different patterns might continue during incarceration. Prison rules and restrictions, the distances involved, increased family tensions and the effects of stigma all hamper the communication between incarcerated parents and their children.

Gender and ethnic differences

The likelihood that incarcerated parents will maintain contact with their children appears to be based in part on their gender and ethnicity. Mothers in prison stay in touch with their children more than fathers in prison, and African-American incarcerated parents of either gender maintain connections more than parents of other ethnicities. Sixty-one percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of Caucasians had not visited with their children in-person since they were incarcerated, compared to 55 percent of African-Americans. Twenty-four percent of African-Americans reported monthly visits with their children, compared with 21 percent of Caucasians and 20 percent of Hispanics. The numbers are similar for phone contact; 33 percent of African-Americans maintained weekly phone calls with their children, compared to 26 percent of Caucasians and 22 percent of Hispanics. Conversely, 50 percent of Hispanics, 45 percent of Caucasians and 33 percent of African-Americans had never spoken with any of their children by phone. Divided by gender, 31 percent of mothers and 42 percent of fathers had never talked with any of their children by phone.

A statistical profile of incarcerated parents

The most comprehensive source of statistics on children of incarcerated parents in the United States is the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, designed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and conducted by the Bureau of the Census from June through October, 1997.

This survey consists of personal interviews with a representative sample of the 1.3 million individuals housed in state and federal prisons. Researchers gathered a range of information on 12,663 prisoners,including their family background and status. Women made up 20 percent of the sample, although they account for only six percent of the prison population nationally. The ethnic mix of the sample was representative of the prison population at that time; 50 percent African-American, 35 percent Caucasian and 17 percent Hispanic.

The survey results illustrate inmates’ pre-prison domestic arrangements and provide insight into their parental roles and family relationships before and during incarceration. Most importantly, the numbers tell us that parenthood is a reality for most incarcerated adults,male and female. The numbers also reveal that the image of the traditional nuclear family does not represent the experience of most parents in prison. Three in four parents were divorced or unmarried. Most mothers,but fewer than half of fathers, in state prisons had one or more of their children living with them at the time of their arrest. Nearly one third of women and four percent of men were single parents living alone with their children. Studies of parents in prison show that before going to prison, some parents have all or some of their children living with them; while, some have none. In addition,children in the same family may have different mothers or fathers.

1. Numerous parents whose children did not live with them were still involved in their children’s lives. Many of the fathers surveyed in one study who did not live with their children saw them regularly; two-thirds said they also supported them financially.

2. In another study, mothers who did not live with their teenage daughters before incarceration rated their relationships with their daughters as very good or excellent.

3. When mothers are incarcerated, their children are most often cared for by grandparents or other relatives. The majority of fathers indicate, however,that their children are cared for by the child’s other parent. About two percent of fathers and 10 percent of mothers indicate that they have children in foster care. The number may be higher as many incarcerated parents do not have up-to-date information on their children or do not view state sponsored kinship care as a form of foster care.