Multiple studies and anecdotal evidence show us that incarcerated people who are able to maintain stable and loving relationships through regular visitation with their families acclimate to society more fully after release and experience less recidivism.
Children who are able to maintain a relationship with their incarcerated parents sustain a connection that is not replaceable.
We know this, and yet many states have put policies, procedures and laws in place that reduce the likelihood that those visitations will remain possible and those family relationships will remain intact, while “2.7 Million Kids Have Parents in Prison,” according to a recent article by Sylvia A. Harvey, featured in The Nation magazine.
You can read the entire text of Ms. Harvey’s article here.
Excerpts that are particularly compelling to those of us concerned with children challenged by parental incarceration include:
“Going to prison is often an isolating event. It is assumed that once a person is incarcerated, their former life will simply vanish. But for the kids they leave behind, it doesn’t work that way: That prisoner remains a parent.
Among the many collateral consequences of mass incarceration is its impact on children, and the number who are affected is staggering.
According to a 2010 study (the most recent data available), 54 percent of the people serving time in US prisons were the parents of children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.
Over 2.7 million children in the United States had an incarcerated parent. That’s one in 28 kids, compared with one in 125 about 30 years ago. For black children, the odds were much worse: While one out of every 57 white children had an incarcerated parent, one out of every nine black children had a parent behind bars.”
“Prison visitation varies from state to state and prison to prison. Typical visits, called “contact visits,” take place in designated areas with tables, chairs, and vending machines filled with junk food (and, in some cases, games to play). These visits take place under surveillance and allow extremely limited physical contact—usually just a hug and a kiss, lasting under 15 seconds, upon entry and exit. Children often make long treks for that fleeting moment—on average, 100 miles.”
“Today, only California, Connecticut, Washington, and New York continue to offer family visitation widely. South Dakota, Colorado, and Nebraska have a very limited visitation policy: only for female inmates, and focused on those with young children.”
Seedling Mentor Program’s expert resource, Ann Adalist-Estrin, had this to say to Ms. Harvey about the recent changes in prison visitation policies.
“Extended visits are the most helpful developmentally for kids. They allow kids the opportunity to see their parents as real and human and take away the strain of making each visit perfect.
“During regular visits, kids are monitored seriously,” she explains. “They’re in very uncomfortable visiting arrangements, with hard seats, limited time face to face, can’t touch each other. It limits the child’s ability to go through cadence.”
“Cadence” refers to the series of group developmental stages that some therapists have dubbed “form, storm, norm, and perform.” Initially, the child is elated to see his or her parent. But during longer visits, there’s greater room for upheaval: Kids feel comfortable broaching difficult topics involving sadness or anger, because there’s more time to recover and return to normal.
“In a short visit, if kids are beginning to ‘form’ and ‘norm’ the relationship, they will not do the ‘storm’ part, because they don’t feel comfortable,” Adalist-Estrin says. “They don’t have the time to resolve it before they leave.”
In this time of holidays, a coming New Year and general celebration, consider these children whose situation may be quite different. Becoming a Mentor or your support of a Seedling Mentor can make a difference that will last all year, and perhaps even for a lifetime.
We welcome you. www.seedlingfoundation.org