A Youth Prison Excludes Families

Isadora Kosofsky | www.isadorakosofsky.com

We’re using the mnemonic, l-o-c-k-e-d u-p, to show some of the main characteristics of a youth prison in a series of articles, Locked Up: What is a Youth Prison? (L = Large; O = Old, Outdated & Obsolete; C = {Adult} Correctional Approach; K = Kids are locked up; E = Excludes Families). One of those characteristics is that a youth prison excludes families.

How do youth prisons exclude families?

Overall, the experience we had was one of not feeling like the system really wanted us involved. All the rules they set up prevented true family participation.”

“When he was in the juvenile facility we could visit on Tuesday or Saturday and you got 20 minutes a visit. There were steel tables and steel chairs and you couldn’t even touch him.”

“Some parents do not have transportation. No one is offering transportation, so this creates a problem for [maintaining] a meaningful relationship with your child. You don’t get the opportunity to visit with the child or talk with the child; there is no relationship.”

An incarcerated teen phones home | photo: International Business Times

“I talked to my family every few months because they could not afford to put money on the phone. My mother had children to take care of. She also couldn’t come see me because it was an hour away and that is gas and so forth.”

“He said, “Man, I feel like I don’t know you at all. I grew up without you” and that really hurt. It was real hard to keep communication and keep a relationship with your family.”

In listening sessions with parents and family members with children in the justice system, sponsored by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Campaign for Youth Justice, families talked about the difficulties in keeping connected with their children while they were incarcerated.

Isadora Kosofsky | www.isadorakosofsky.com

“I don’t think the system is there to help children, just to contain them.”

“My son has made mistakes in his life. But he wasn’t sentenced to be tortured. He wasn’t sentenced to sit in a cold cell by himself all day with no help. And he wasn’t sentenced to be viciously beaten by guards.”

“Before my son got locked up, he was healthy. Being locked up for more than twenty-one hours and sometimes more than twenty-three hours a day [in solitary confinement] made my son sick. He is physically deteriorating. His speech is slower and he seems distant now. The prison system has broken his spirit. I wonder if he can ever heal from this trauma.”

“I know there are people with good intentions there, but there is no access to services — there’s not all that much in the correctional center.”

“The longer you keep our youth incarcerated, the more you can violate them and keep them coming in- and-out, in-and-out without giving them anything.”

In the groundbreaking report by Justice 4 Families, Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice, over 1,000 families in more than twenty cities participated in researching and documenting the experience of families with children in the justice system. Families shared concerns about the barriers to staying connected with their children while incarcerated, their limited role in decision making about the care and treatment of their children, and the negative impacts of being locked up.

Drawing by unidentified incarcerated youth | Photo by Jim Forest

It is evident that families want to maintain family connections with incarcerated youth and be involved in decisions around their care and treatment.

Incarcerated youth want this too.

However, in the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), youth in correctional facilities were twice as likely to have a low rate of family contact compared to youth in other placements. Youth believed this was because of inconvenient visiting hours, distance of their family from the facility, lack of transportation, and resource constraints. Some youth (14%) said this was because their facility does not allow it. Almost no youth said it was because the youth didn’t want to talk or visit with their family or that their family didn’t want to talk or visit them.

And, the public wants to see families stick together, too.

In a national poll released in February, 2016, nearly 90% of Americans want treatment and rehabilitation plans to include a youth’s family in planning, services.

Read the polling data from GBA Strategies http://buff.ly/2aEifY1

What does this mean?

Youth prisons exclude families in so many ways. Families have limited contact with their children while incarcerated even though the families and the youth want more contact. Families are not part of any decision-making about what youth prison their child is sent to, what programming or treatment their child accesses, or other key decisions involving their child.

The culture of youth prisons, and the juvenile justice system generally, is to exclude families. Families are not viewed as part of the solution, even though families are in the best position to know what their child needs, family involvement reduces recidivism, and the research shows that youth thrive best in families.

Stay tuned for next week’s article featuring “D”…