The crayons, construction paper and toddlers scattered on the floor suggest a typical daycare center or kindergarten classroom. The armed guards and surveillance cameras reveal a painful reality.
The handful of inmates gathered for the monthly program at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center include some of the state's most notorious female convicted murderers.
But their crimes don't prevent the women's loved ones from calling them Mommy and Grandma, or from needing a hug or words of encouragement. And while the inmates do time, their children and grandchildren often struggle with feelings of anger, resentment and betrayal.
University of Missouri outreach workers started the family support program in 1999 at the state's maximum security prison in Potosi. Known as the Living Interactive Family Education program, or 4-H LIFE, is now offered in Potosi, Vandalia and the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City.
"There are many education programs for incarcerated parents," said program director Tammy Gillespie. "But not a whole lot that work with the entire family."
More than 1.7 million children in this country have a parent in prison, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. And more than half of the estimated 1.5 million inmates in U.S. prisons last year were themselves parents.
From a loss of custody to emotional damage and financial hardship, those fractured families face challenges even after the missing parent is released, Gillespie noted. The inmate education program is designed to strengthen family bonds while also teaching the parenting skills necessary to survive in the outside world.
"We're not just an activity to keep people busy," she said. "We're trying to build skills that will last a lifetime."
"They get to practice their parenting skills in a safe environment," Gillespie added. "And they get a chance to show their family and their children that they're trying to do better."
Monday, September 29, 2008
Promoting familiy ties behind bars
Children of incarcerated parents tend to rebel and act out because of their parent's absence and are 5-7 times more likely than their peers to end up incarcerated themselves, so I was encouraged to learn of this program in a Missouri women's prison aimed at encouraging mothers behind bars to spend quality time with their children. Reported USA Today ("MO program fosters family ties behind bars," Sept. 25):
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at 12:54 PM