Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates Announces Family-Friendly Prison Policies to Strengthen Inmate-Familial Bonds
NOTE: The prepared remarks for the Deputy Attorney General are attached as a PDF.
National Reentry Week Initiatives Aimed at Children of Incarcerated Parents and Enhancing Communication and Coordination Between Inmates and Family Members
As part of National Reentry Week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates today announced several family-friendly initiatives aimed at strengthening the bonds between inmates and their children and families. The Deputy Attorney General also announced the launch of a new reentry hotline for returning citizens seeking help navigating life outside prison.
The announcement was made following the Deputy Attorney General’s visit to the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) female facility in Bryan, Texas, and a subsequent stop at Santa Maria Hostel, a residential reentry center for women in Houston.
The family-friendly initiatives announced and highlighted by the Deputy Attorney General include expanding video-conferencing visitation; a pilot program that engages children of incarcerated parents in positive youth development activities; guidance and training for BOP staff on how to make visitation spaces more child friendly and interact with children in a developmentally appropriate way; educating inmates on how to keep in contact with children who may be in foster care; tip sheets for parents, correctional staff and mentors to support children of incarcerated parents; and a new interagency partnership to develop model policies that can be used by state and local prison facilities to help strengthen family ties.
In addition to the department’s efforts to promote family engagement, the Deputy Attorney General announced the launch of the first ever reentry hotline (1‐877‐895‐9196) for individuals who have been released from federal custody and their families. The hotline, which opened this week, will aid returning citizens who need help finding government and private resources to aid their successful reentry. That includes help in determining how to get a copy of their birth certificate, where to start a job search and where to find legal aid service providers, among other crucial resources. The Deputy Attorney General toured the hotline’s control center during her visit to the BOP facility in Bryan today. The hotline is staffed by female inmates working for Federal Prison Industries, BOP’s largest reentry program.
“Assisting inmates in maintaining family relationships while they are in prison is not only good for the individuals returning from prison and their families, it’s good for the community as well, because when a person has a strong support system when they are released, they are less likely to re-offend,” said Deputy Attorney General Yates. “Doing everything we can to equip inmates to be successful when they leave prison, including assisting them in maintaining family relationships, is one of the most important things we can do for the safety of our communities.”
As laid out yesterday in Principle III of the Attorney General’s “Roadmap to Reentry,” 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. To help ensure that all returning citizens have a robust support system, prisons must have significant opportunities for family engagement.
The BOP initiatives announced and highlighted by the Deputy Attorney General today include:
- Expansion of the pilot program that provides video services for visitation to all of BOP’s female facilities by June 2016 and development of an implementation plan to expand the video services visitation program to all of BOP’s facilities.
- A children of incarcerated parents pilot program at four BOP facilities. BOP is working with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on this pilot program, which engages children of incarcerated parents in positive youth development activities and includes their parents in these activities. The programs are scheduled to begin in June 2016, following the awarding of $1.3 million in grant funding to service providers last September. Facilities chosen for the pilot are in Connecticut, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
- Development of “best practices” guidance and training for BOP staff regarding interacting with children in a developmentally appropriate way during visitation and creating visiting spaces at BOP facilities that are welcoming to children. Specifically, wardens will be encouraged to consider the potential stress and anxiety some children experience when visiting their incarcerated parents. The suggested best practices include making waiting areas and children’s centers child-friendly and encouraging positive conversations between prison staff and children visitors.
The Deputy Attorney General also announced and highlighted three interagency initiatives developed to support incarcerated parents and their children:
- Guide for Incarcerated Parents who have Children in the Child Welfare System. This guide, co-authored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and BOP, is a resource to help incarcerated parents who have children in foster care better understand how the child welfare system works so that they can stay in touch with their children and stay involved in decisions regarding their children's well-being. The guide offers best practices on how to communicate with social workers, information about federal child welfare laws and where to find additional assistance.
- Educational “tip sheets” to support children of incarcerated parents. The department-funded and HHS-managed children of incarcerated parents website on youth.gov released yesterday three new “tip sheets” focused on providing easy and practical information to support children who have parents in the criminal justice system. The tip sheets include:
- Tips for incarcerated parents. This resource will provide strategies for parents to help them prepare their child for visiting a prison facility in order to make the experience less intimidating and more positive. It includes information about child development, ways to prepare in order to reduce possible stress and trauma and suggested family-friendly activities;
- Tips for correctional staff and volunteers. This resource provides tips to correctional staff and volunteers about positive child interaction during prison visits. It includes information on how child development may be impacted by parental incarceration and provides strategies on how to support positive communication to mitigate some of the stress of visiting; and
- Tips for mentors. This resource provides mentors working with children of incarcerated parents with information about the unique challenges this population of children may face and how they may be able to better support the mentor-child relationship with this unique context in mind.
- New partnership to develop model family strengthening policies for states and localities. The Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Corrections and HHS are partnering to support a $1 million effort to develop family strengthening policies that can be implemented in state and local correctional facilities in order to reduce the traumatic impact of parental incarceration on children. Model policies may include, but are not limited to: child development training for correctional staff; family-friendly visiting policies and procedures; parenting programming offered in correctional facilities; family reunification and/or reentry planning; and other issues that impact incarcerated parents and their children.