Justice Department: More family-friendly prisons

The following article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  A companion article appears on Cleveland.com with a single poll question looking for your opinion.  I encourage all LEAF families to read the article and participate in the poll.  It appears anonymous since no log-in is required.  Please participate.   The online article can be found here.  The article mentions the Justice Department’s “plan”.  Its official name is “The Roadmap to Reentry” and a worthwhile read.

Justice Department wants more family-friendly prisons


Washington — Signaling a rethinking of the old tough on- crime philosophy, the U.S. Justice Department this week announced a series of family-friendly initiatives for inmates in federal prisons.

”While maintaining family relationships is important for all of us, it is particularly important for people in prison,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said Tuesday during a ”National Reentry Week” event, part of a Justice Department effort to stress that it wants to help inmates return to communities more successfully.

”Research has shown that inmates who maintain supportive relationships with family members have far better outcomes when they leave prison.”

The Justice Department’s plans include:

Videoconferencing facilities:

To help female inmates stay connected with their families. A pilot program already exists but will be extended to all federal Bureau of Prisons female facilities by June.

More than 7 percent of the 195,000 federal inmates are women, ”and they often experience greater geographic separation from their families because there are fewer female facilities across the country,” Yates said after visiting a residential reentry facility in Houston. ”By providing the opportunity for women to see their children’s faces and the faces of their other loved ones on a regular basis and equally importantly, for their families to see them, we are helping to support and strengthen the bonds between these women and their families.”

Family-friendly programs:

To engage children of federal inmates. This will start with four federal facilities chosen for a pilot program, in Connecticut, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

More than half of all prisoners across the country are parents, and ”children with a parent in prison are far more likely to end up in prison as well,” Yates said.

She said the pilot program ”will engage inmates and their children in a variety of youth development activities, from academic support to mentoring, to try to stop the cycle of incarceration.”

A toll-free hotline:

To help former inmates and families with community re-entry. This includes help getting birth certificates and other documents, and information on job services.

The hotline — 1-877-8959196 — opened this week.

The Justice Department says more than 600,000 people return to neighborhoods each year after serving time in federal and state prisons, while another 11.4 million cycle through local jails. But many return to prison after committing new crimes.

During recent decades, politicians and law enforcement authorities followed a tough-love philosophy, carried out with mandatory- minimum sentences and an attitude that inmates were to be punished. That resulted in an unbroken cycle. A study this year by the United States Sentencing Commission found that 49.3 percent of federal offenders released in 2005 were arrested on a new charge within eight years. As a result, one quarter of the federal offenders were put back in prison over the same period.

Attitudes are shifting, particularly on drug crimes. Still, the stigma of serving time in prison, and a lack of care for what happens when inmates leave prison, makes community reentry difficult — keeping the risk of lapses by former felons too high, reform advocates say.

”These are people who could contribute to our economy, who could support their families and who could transform their communities into better places to live,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday in a blueprint called ”Road map to Re-entry.”

The road map also included a plan to develop education, job training, substance- abuse programs and life skills courses for every federal inmate in order to improve their chances of success upon release.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who has worked on bipartisan efforts for several years, says that cutting recidivism could save the government at least $275 million over a decade in prison costs.

Portman said the announcements sound positive but he wants to look at the specifics.

Updated: April 28, 2016 — 11:19 pm