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Transcript: Families Imprisoned
When a parent goes to jail, inevitably the whole family ends up imprisoned, psychologically if not physically. Our panelists discuss how we might deal with the whole family if one or both parents are incarcerated.
These are selections from the whole transcript. Some comments will also occur on other themed pages because they cover more than one topic.
Jim Peck: Director Crawford, it sounds like in some ways we're almost going to have prisons -- the state -- be responsible for raising these families.
Jackie Crawford: I think at some point we will either way. It's either pay now or pay later because as we've indicated those children are five times more likely to wind up in our prison system. I would see a visitation type of program where by house arrest would allow that woman to be in the home with those children and to begin to groom them and redirect them in a positive way and it would be long-term. But please keep in mind anything in rehabilitation is long-term and those children hopefully will not wind up in our prison system. But if we don't address that issue they're going to go to a foster home or else we're going to have to pay through welfare so I think we have to look at a different approach. I think we have to look at a system. One size does not fit all, not all women would benefit from that. However the two individuals on the program I believe would and today as we speak we have 600 total women who are probably in medium security and we also have 340 who are minimum security who go out everyday in the community and work. So if they are able to do that, why not put them in the home with the children and begin to groom that entire family. We don't know until we try and one of the things that has happened historically over the years is that again if it's for the male which is the male largest as the population is extremely large that population and that process is applied to the female and we've got to start looking at things differently. We're going to have to approach our system differently if we intend to save money and begin to use our money more smartly.
Marianne Johnstone: Some cultures use restorative justice and that really can be a meaningful way to get people, everybody to heal both the victim and the offender.
Jim Peck: When you say restorative justice what do you mean explain it to us?
Marianne Johnstone: Well if a person tears down, let's say a person kicks your fence and it falls down because it's rotten anyway, but the dog was barking too much and it just got to this person's mindset that it was just not going to listen to it anymore, and he kicks the fence and now he's committed a destruction of property so normally he would go to jail. The fence would still be broken. In restorative justice the fence would be fixed, he would dialogue with the victim whenever possible, he'd dialogue with the community because he has probably frightened the community, and he makes restitution in all these areas. And he doesn't do it while incarcerated, he does it in an outpatient type thing and so there are so many things that can be done restoratively that I think that that's a very good answer to a lot of problems especially when it comes to women because like everybody has said if you incarcerate the mother you incarcerate the whole family and there has to be another way.
Jackie Crawford: Well and I think also you're looking at children who are the victims. They may not be the direct victim of the crime, but they are a victim, they're a victim of our society, they're a victim of their mother's behavior and those actions and do we want to continue then creating that victim and I think that's something we have to focus on and find a better way in managing some of these issues or addressing some of these issues.
Jim Peck: Well I know Director this is something that you actually have worked on for quite a while as I understand it.
Jackie Crawford: For many years. In '72 in York, Nebraska, we discovered children who were having problems in school and their mothers were concerned and we started a child visitation program where the children would come on site for an entire weekend and we had a you know what we would call MOLT (Mother Offspring Life Development). And through a $500,000 grant from LEAA then we developed a nursery, we created you know an environment for parenting. We found through our research that the children's behavior stabilized that they perceived their mother not being in a role that was so negative and the environment in which they came to visit obviously was more positive and what they saw on TV and so the stereotype that the children developed began to dissipate. So that was very important and today the same program continues, but most important is now the woman can have the child and the child will remain there with the mother for a year in bonding. So this is not a new concept. Perhaps for the western states it may be, but I think it's something very viable and I think that's something we have to focus on, what's good for that child.
Jim Peck: Now educate me a little bit because I'm picturing some of these kids coming into some of these settings that I wouldn't necessarily think of as nurturing. Is it different in these communities with, not all these women are mothers? What is it like for the kids to part of that? What is their life like being inside?
Jackie Crawford: Well I can address that very well. First of all you have to designate an area and then you create that environment for that child and for that mother for the visitation. You don't allow them out into the entire population. However there is the maternal instincts of all women in a female prison. And it just it does something for that environment that normalizes it. That assists you know the, the inmates to feel like their kind of in a normal environment and it does a lot of other peripheral kinds of issues and addresses issues. But I will tell you it works. It works extremely well and not only for the mothers, but also for the institution if it's managed correctly, but for those kids, it's very important. In one setting we had Santa Claus. You know, Santa Claus comes in at all of our prisons on Christmas now and we're merely visiting the visitation room. I think that we have to open up our doors and our approaches in corrections, if we're going to use the word corrections. And if we're not then you know we need to cease using that terminology. But for the most part the appropriate classification, appropriate training and appropriate environment it's a very healthy thing for our female institutions.
Jim Peck: Director Lampert how hard is it to get those doors and start opening to things as she's speaking about?
Robert Lampert: I don't think it's that difficult as long as it's well presented and the public is educated on exactly what the programs going to be about. In Wyoming for example, we're getting ready to go into legislative session and ask for capital construction dollars to actually fund a parenting pre-release center that would allow for that reunification of the family. That's with an understanding that community based intervention programs probably would be more effective. However for those females that do end up in prison rather than just hoping that age and maturity will make them better parents we need to have programs in place that allow for that.
Jim Peck: A lot of talk about education, a lot of talk about education across the board. How hard a sell is that to your legislatures, to the public?
Sheila Leslie: I think in a time of budget crisis as all the western states are facing it creates an opportunity for change and we certainly seen that in Nevada where we're starting to shift money from hard prison beds, we can build more prison beds or we can create reentry centers and more wraparound services. And sitting on the money committee myself I see that change in the legislative body. People are interested in cutting budgets properly. This last session we had a big debate about prison food, Director Crawford will remember that. There's a big movement to cut the prison food budget and what people need to understand is we're looking at do we cut prisons or do we cut K-12 education and legislatures typically are very compassionate people, but we have to make tough decisions like that. So I really think this is a great opportunity to create new models, um I agree with Director Crawford, we need to look at things like moving people out of prison early through house arrest programs, we're experimenting in our state with a prison reentry program. Taking people out of prison up to two years early, putting them through a drug court program and some of the women that I've seen come through those programs are doing very well, they're very motivated. So I think there are different ways that we can hold people accountable for their actions, protect the public safety, and do a much better job at reducing recidivism and that way everybody wins.
Dorothy Nash Holmes: You're going to have to use the money smarter. You can use the same money, but use it more cost effectively in different ways. You can't ignore the family because parts of it are locked away because grandma becomes the head of the household and maybe the drug dealing husband has the kids and she's in prison. The entire family dynamic changes and they all have to be prepared how to deal with that when they get back out. It's a huge problem.
Jim Peck: Director Beauclair I know you're just about to head into the legislative session in Idaho. What is the landscape there?
Tom Beauclair: I think it will be very difficult for new programs, I agree that there's opportunity at the same time. Let me just put it in perspective in Idaho we have roughly 500 female inmates, we had 16 births in prison this last year, we, we know that about 70% of those women have dependent children and our female population grows at double the rate the male population grows currently. We also know that those females are the lowest risk to the community. So something's wrong. Now having said all that, it's still very difficult to add new programs, particularly in this budget situation we're in so I'm not sure I have any answers, but those are the facts of what's going on in Idaho.
Jim Peck: Dr. Latessa this is a tough sell for folks. How are folks doing on this? How are, how is the world of corrections doing with dealing with these issues?
Dr. Ed Latessa: Well I think we are seeing fewer programs offered, there have been budget cuts in virtually every state. The female issue has been one for a number of years now that populations grown that's gotten some attention, but, but I agree with Dr. Crawford that oftentimes what we do are the same programs that aren't very effective for this population and they tend to be because its such a, such a much smaller number than, than males that are incarcerated. Females oftentimes are neglected in institutions.
Jim Peck: But if it such a smaller number isn't then easier to get your hands around that? I mean because you're not dealing with such a vast amount of folks.
Tom Beauclair: Not necessarily because there are so many other needs. We've got a, a mental health population as an example just skyrocketing. We've got the substance abuse problem. We've got recidivism that's high. I mean there are so many other needs that it's very difficult to bring anything new up and ask for money.
Jackie Crawford: I would like to add to that though you know there's a number of foundations around and I would hope that perhaps that could be a focus to give this a pilot project, to address these issues, to see how exactly it works. When I arrived we were not a recipient of any grants at all and we started pursuing grants and while I realize that you know they began to you know fizzle out or to fade out that we have to, to find monies to fund those, but something is better than nothing and I think if we reach a few people its still better than none at all. But I would concur with the director these are tight budget times and we have to prioritize and we do have to secure the really hardened people because we have to protect society. But at the same time using all those resources and reallocating them you know is much more smartly used then if we just decide to continue the main process in going through. Carceration's expensive, it's very expensive. Hard beds, when you start paying officer salaries and you have to institutionalize these individuals security is you know, it is absolutely a most expensive component of your operation and you have to have that, but if you're building those walls then you're creating that situation and I believe that we need to begin to look at alternatives. And those alternatives have got to be directed towards the community. If I can have 300 some people in minimum security who go out everyday and work in the community then why can they not be on house arrest or in drug court and making a living or even going to work and taking their children to a daycare. It seems like a more normalized environment spells success and I think that's something that we haven't really looked at. Construction seems to be our answer for everything and it really isn't the answer for everything.
Terry Kolkey: When you talk about the budget crunch there is a mention that it's hard to get new programs institutioned, but actually in some places it's even worse. Like in California there's a program that requires all inmates, all 170,000 to work towards a high school degree, well that entire budget was just cut.
Tom Bolan: I think that public private partnerships can be a creative solution that especially in utilizing the specialty courts, drug courts, alternative sentencing other than prison and jail time. I think that when treatment providers work together with mental health providers, social workers, etc., etc. where we work towards family reunification we're not only affecting the corrections budget, but also foster care, child development, we're affecting schools. The difficulty in public discussions and legislative solutions is when we talk about cost shifting because funds are appropriated in silos, so if we're shifting costs from corrections and perhaps putting them in treatment for example those, those are two different cultures, they're two different funding streams, different languages and its difficult to look at those cost shiftings even though there is savings for society as a whole.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: When I was looking at this segment I was thinking and trying to follow a train of thought and I think it's really an amazing program. I was very excited to look at it and listen to these women talk about trying to be parents in prison and you know Director Crawford talking about I, I have a philosophy of what this prison should be like and when, okay so the philosophy is that when a woman goes to prison, her family goes to prison. I think that's very true. When a man goes to prison his family goes to prison too. I mean why not expand this whole model and say that the man is part of this problem too because a lot of those women are abused in their homes and that's men okay that's mostly men. So shouldn't we be looking at this in terms of a man and a woman in the home and why are we leaving men out of this story of children? Couldn't men benefit from having children around them?
Jim Peck: Why are we leaving them out?
Robert Lampert: I don't think we actually are leaving them out at least in Wyoming we're looking at parenting across the board and ways to, to work on codependency issues and other things for the female population and also as parenting from a distance issues with male population. Focusing on the family and taking a holistic approach to that. It so happens however that the female population when you're talking or requesting public funding is more sellable at this point. So we have to start somewhere.
Dorothy Nash Holmes: We started a program in Nevada with our men where they read a children's book on videotape and then we send the tapes to their children and that was so powerful and so effective and we've started it now with the women and we're doing the same. And that is one of our most popular programs because it keeps the children in touch with their father, their mother, even though they're in a horrible setting. If you can't keep the connection they're doomed and those kids will come to prison because they'll hate the system, they'll hate the cops, the parents will come out worse parents and better crooks than they went in. So if you don't do something with the whole family while they're in, they're doomed.
Terry Kolkey: And what, all of this talk about these community based programs does is it gives the inmate a future, it keeps the ties with the community and it gives the inmate a stake in the community and a future out there. And the more you do that the greater your chances of success in having, in not having that person come back to prison. The more he's going to want to live out there successfully.
Jim Peck: Well and it sounds like they're also involved in making their life better.
Terry Kolkey: Yes.
Jim Peck: And contributing to.
Terry Kolkey: They're creating, they're creating their future.
Marianne Johnstone: Interestingly enough in Utah the women recidivism rate is, is much better, lower right then it is the men and that always to me is interesting, but I think part of it is this need to nurture and to, to be a part of their family.
Tom Bolan: I think something that shouldn't be underestimated is that in our treatment program we work with a lot of women that were born affected by drugs and alcohol and they're giving birth to children that are affected by drugs and alcohol and the transformation that happens when family wellness begins is nothing short of miraculous because when we're able to work with a woman and mean we as a community are able to work with a woman or a man and have the transition go from survival mechanisms that they've learned in prison, on the streets, etc. its amazing what people do to be able to survive and transform those to assets so that they can become productive members of society, healthy parents, working, paying taxes, is, is nothing short of a miracle, but it takes an investment, it takes a coordinated, comprehensive effort to give the person the opportunity to make that transformation. Because as the football player in the first segment showed he was born into disenfranchisement and then every step of the way until football, school and family became opportunities for him and he's a gifted athlete. Most people aren't going to have the opportunity to get a scholarship to play football, that's not the way out for most folks. So we have to be able to provide comprehensive services. If a woman comes out of prison and is expected to reunify with her children then employment, childcare, housing, life skills, if she's never folded laundry before someone's got to show her how to do it. These are the things that have to be well thought out, coordinated and can, and have proven to be successful.
Terry Kolkey: One of the things to add to that, just getting back to the budgetary issues while it costs on average $20,000 a year to incarcerate somebody, people think that the money is not available for these type of community services, but it is available because if you incarcerate 'em its going to cost you $20,000 - $30,000 a year to keep them there, instead you can spend the money on these services.
Sheila Leslie: Except its not quite that simple in a growing state like Nevada because as our population booms and our tax structure doesn't keep up with the booming population you can't just shift. It always sound so easy when people say that and when you're a legislator looking at the numbers on the budget there's never enough money.
Terry Kolkey: Well I agree there's never enough money, but the other its, its there is far too much spent on corrections. In the '90s during times when educational budgets were cut in the'90s nationwide there were 3,300 new prisons built at a cost of $27 billion. That didn't have to happen.
Dorothy Nash Holmes: Well and all the tough on crime legislation from the late '80s, '90s lock 'em up, lock 'em up longer that didn't cut recidivism it kept the bad guys off the streets longer, but they came out and committed new crimes just as quickly. We have to be smarter. We have figures from Nevada that show that the average income the year before she came to prison for a woman was $2,000 our woman inmates. We need to train them in job skills. We shouldn't, I love our firefighting program and it keeps 'em busy, but women can't get out of prison and work as firefighters. We need to train them in computers, train 'em in skills they can get real jobs when they get out. Not keep busy, busy work jobs while they're in prison, we've got to get them real viable skills that mean something in the community so they can change themselves.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: But does the public really believe that, that people who go to prison are people who can change? I mean I wonder because I think the public wants to just lock them up and public perception is not to be rehabilitated, but simply just house 'em, house 'em and keep 'em away from us and lets not really look at their issues because when you bring this up in a classroom of university students who are mainly middle class they're going to say well these are problem people and they're poor and they have problems anyway so just keep 'em out of my sight.
Jim Peck: Well I think a lot it was also that we heard a lot about people that didn't serve full sentences, they got out and did more stuff. So I think there's a belief that we do need to lock these people up, because look what happens if we don't.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: Sure.
Dr. Ed Latessa: Well the public's pretty clear if you look at public opinion polls the public is, does want to be tough on crime, but they do support rehabilitation even in institutions. The great divide line in public opinion is violence, that they do want violent offenders kept off the streets and locked up. But for many other type of offenders, the public is willing to give them other chances and put them in the programs. The problem is the public doesn't really know what works. They trust us and correctional officials to design good effective programs, but there is actually quite a bit of evidence that, that the public does support those efforts to occur.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: If it can be sold and packaged in a certain way otherwise they don't.
Jim Peck: Well I was going to say we have had politicians, judges, other people running on the, on the fact that they kept somebody locked up, that they got more people off the street.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: Correct.
Jim Peck: What's it going to take to change people's perceptions so that we perhaps have people that are running for office are talking about these programs, getting up and saying look I brought these people out and they're living full lives and they're contributing.
Dr. Theresa Martinez: Education. Part of it's education and connecting with real stories of real people.
Terry Kolkey: The opposite is the mainstream media continues, has for the last 20-30 years and continues to represent, to demonize the criminal, to demonize the inmate and to present it in a one dimensional way and to only sensationalize the worst. The one out of 10,000 and that's what we've got for the last 20 years and that's what we're getting now.
Tom Bolan: We're still feeling the effects of the Willy Horton issue and but we don't hear about all the people that are released from prison and commit violent crimes because there wasn't a furlough program that had support services. We only hear about the, the Willy Horton type of horrible incident and I think that on the other side that we don't hear about how programs reentry programs promote individual accountability and responsibility. I think the myth is that programs somehow let somebody get away with something when in fact they're holding folks that are in the programs to a higher standard than the general public at large that's certainly true for drug and alcohol treatment programs and I don't think that, that message is out in the public.
Dorothy Nash Holmes: Corrections can't be passive about that, we have to get out there and market ourselves and tell them what we're doing. We've done that in Nevada. We've opened the doors, we've brought in the press, we have inmate art shows and they sell the art and they give some of the proceeds to the victims of domestic violence. We have a program where we train inmates train wild horses and they're adopted. We have a dog program. Everything we do, we have inmates that are building homes for habitat for humanity. Everything we do, we're trying to connect to the public and let them see them giving back because I think people, I think like Dr. Latessa said people do recognize that change is possible. I tell people that we're not rehabilitating inmates we are giving them the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. We can't make them do it if they don't want to, but they want to, the majority of them want to and the public wants them to because this is their sons and daughters and spouses coming back.
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