What makes you stay
When your world falls apart
What makes you try one more time
When it’s not in your heart
From Deana Carter and What Makes You Stay
I thought about writing a blog post highlighting my top 10 posts of the year, but it seemed so self-congratulating I decided not to do it.
But, earlier today, a news release about a task force for kids of incarcerated parents landed in my inbox, and I remembered (not that I’d forgotten) the posts I wrote in 2011 about female incarceration in Oklahoma. These were my most important posts over the last year.
From the Oklahoma House of Representatives News Release
The lives of thousands of children whose parents are in prison could be improved by adopting policies that support maintenance of the parent-child relationship during incarceration, according to an Oklahoma task force report issued today.
“While there must be consequences for adult lawbreakers, state policy should not unnecessarily punish innocent children,” said state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, a Tulsa Democrat who co-chaired the Task Force on the Children of Incarcerated Parents. “We must enact policies that help foster healthy parental relationships as much as possible. In the long run, that will help keep many of these children from becoming criminals themselves as adults.”
The task force report, issued today, notes, “On any given day, more than 26,000 Oklahoma children have a parent in an Oklahoma prison. This number does not include children with parents jailed or imprisoned in county jails and federal correctional facilities. More than half of these children were living with their parent immediately before incarceration. With thousands of inmates entering the prison system each year, this number under-represents the total number of children impacted in the state.”
Parental incarceration is associated with many problems for the children affected, including school challenges, attachment disorders, behavioral problems, criminal activity, physical health problems, and substance abuse.
However, the report notes that contact between an incarcerated parent and their child “helps reduce the anguish that results from separation” and that regular contact offers the child “reassurance that the parent is doing okay and still loves the child.”
To encourage maintenance of the parent-child relationship, the task force endorsed policies that allow in-person visits, telephone visits, and contact using other technology when in-person visits are not possible.
The group also called for providing parent education programs to inmates to “help support a healthy and strong parent-child relationship.”
The task force also recommended increased use of community based sentencing that will avoid family disruption while rehabilitating parents who have been involved in nonviolent crimes.
“If we can avoid sending someone to prison while still rehabilitating them, we can reduce the associated trauma for children,” McDaniel said. “Greater use of alternative sentencing programs, such as drug courts, will also save taxpayer dollars.”
To ensure the children of incarcerated parents receive the care required for a healthy lifestyle, the task force also recommended eliminating any barriers that may prevent the children from accessing health care, including state programs.
“This is a societal problem that will not be eliminated overnight, but I believe the policy recommendations endorsed by the task force could make a real impact on the negative trends we are seeing among the children of incarcerated parents,” McDaniel said. “I plan to continue promoting these reforms in the coming legislative session.”
OKWIP: Oklahoma Kids With Incarcerated Parents
I never wanted to blog about this until now, but last March, my daughter, Juliette, had to create a mock charity for school. The project took place during the same time period our family was reaching out to help Patricia Spottedcrow, the Oklahoma mother of four children who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 of marijuana.
After visiting the Spottedcrow children, Juliette told me she wished she could do her mock charity for them. That’s when we brainstormed the acronym OKWIP: Oklahoma Kids With Incarcerated Parents. The mission of her mock charity was to fund transportation expenses for children of incarcerated parents to and from prisons throughout Oklahoma.
I guided Juliette through her project, but every bit of this was her work, her words and her processes. I have very strong convictions about not doing my kids’ work, and Juliette is so brilliant she’s been accused of not doing her own work before, so I’m kind of sensitive about this. I remember when she was in 2nd grade and decided she wanted to baptized, she wrote her entire testimony by herself. After she gave it, *someone* insinuated I’d written it for her. I was so pi**ed.
Anyway, her project garnered almost all the mock donation dollars at her school and she went on to make a presentation (by herself!) to the Executive Director of Catholic Charities (Oklahoma).
It seems like now is the right time to share her project with the world, so I uploaded it to Slideshare and embedded it below. It’s not a PowerPoint, just an 8.5 x 11 document, so this format is a little odd, but it will give you an idea of her mock charity.
Maybe someday it will happen. At any rate, I’m so encouraged about the recommendations of the task force, especially the endorsement of policies that allow children greater access to their parents during incarceration. Just imagine, through the use of web cams Patricia Spottedcrow and inmates like her might be able to see their children every week!
Currently, even phone calls are quite limited because the cost of the special cell phone/account inmates must use is up to five or six times more expensive than a cheap, Dollar General cell phone. No kidding. Whatever vendor has that contract is making a pretty penny. I paid for Patricia’s minutes a few times – $25 for something like 30 minutes of air time. Insane, not to mention completely unfair – even cruel – to her children who want to talk to their mom or dad.
Juliette, I continue to be so proud of you! I’m glad we survived your project and all those hours spent sitting at the dining room table together. You are a very special young woman and I know you’re going to make a huge difference in the world.