When Attorney General Loretta Lynch was confirmed last April, questions remained about if and how she’d pick up where Eric Holder left off on criminal justice reform. One year later, Lynch announced a comprehensive plan to make it easier for former prisoners to re-integrate into society and reduce recidivism.
The Roadmap to Reentry unveiled Monday tackles the “crippling barriers” that make it difficult to find employment, housing, education, and treatment upon release. But it also confronts a challenge that comes up regularly for people behind bars: connecting to family and keeping strong relationships with children.
Under the plan, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will expand video visitation to its women’s prisons by June 2016, and eventually expand video conferencing to all of its facilities. At four prisons, parents will have the chance to participate in “youth development activities” using a $1.3 million grant. And BOP staff will also be trained on how to improve interactions with kids and provide welcoming spaces for them.
Today, approximately half of the children living in the United States — 33 million to 36.5 million — have at least one parent with a criminal record. Roughly 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars, which makes it difficult to maintain strong family relationships and stability in a household.
“Parental incarceration is one the most severe forms of trauma a child can go through, with major social, emotional and academic consequences,” Matt Haney, the vice president of San Francisco’s board of education, explained when a bill to help traumatized children was introduced in the city in January. Indeed, studies link depression, aggression, disruptive behavior, and anxiety to children with incarcerated parents. Kids are stigmatized for having parents behind bars, and, in many cases, wind up impoverished because a source of income is removed from their homes.
Living without a parent is a struggle, but so is getting the chance to interact with an incarcerated loved one at all. Across the board, strict regulations limit the amount of time prisoners can talk to loved ones. When in-person visitation is allowed, traveling to the facility can also turn into a costly time-suck. Some facilities in the country don’t allow in-person visitation and force prisoners and their families to shell out money for phone calls and video conferencing.
“Honestly I can’t afford to put money on my phone,” Carla Gonzalez, whose brother has been in prison for 10 years, previously told ThinkProgress, in reference to the communication challenges the siblings have. “The experience as a family member is costly on your pocket, costly on your heart,” she added.
“Research shows that close and positive family relationships reduce recidivism, improve an individual’s likelihood of finding and keeping a job after leaving prison, and ease the harm to family members separated from their loved ones,” the Roadmap reads. “These efforts will help those who have paid their debt to society prepare for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates; promoting family unity, contributing to the health of our economy, and sustaining the strength of our nation.”