Here you will find updates regarding the latest news and progress reports on the various Bill of Rights policy projects throughout the nation. The Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents was published in 2003 by the San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, a coalition of groups in the San Francisco area and supported by the Zellerbach Foundation in San Francisco (www.sfcipp.org).

These rights, written by journalist and author, Nell Bernstein, and co-author, Gretchen Newby, director of Friends Outside, have guided advocates across the country, and in other countries, as well, as they pursued improved policies and practices that are less harmful and take the children into account.

Here on the FCN website, you will find relevant updates of various groups across the nation who are using the framework of the Bill of Rights for policy improvements. Please let Dee Ann Newell know of activities by your group that are framed by the Bill of Rights.

Updates – April 2010

New by State

State of Washington

The State of Washington’s statewide CFIP advisory committee was de-funded by the legislature, unfortunately, but they have been busy on other fronts-
1) Passed a law (SSB 6639) providing non-prison alternatives to custodial parents convicted of non-violent crimes:http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=6639

2) Created a toolkit for mental health and chemical dependency providers who work with children of the incarcerated and their families: http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/dbhr/youthtxtoolkit.pdf

Thanks for the update to Miriam Bearse.

Updates – November 2009

News by State

Travis County, Texas (Austin)

The Bill of Rights group in Austin, Texas received a grant from the Texas Episcopal Diocese Restorative Justice Committee to continue the effort to initiate policies and practices in line with the Bill of Rights.
The group has set three priorities, combining some of the rights into one working group, with an arrest group, a family impact statement group, visitation, and cross-systems development on services and policies affecting the children. They held a recent working group meeting to establish these groups, and Dee Ann Newell served as the facilitator. Such energy and action was palpable. The groups are convening a mere two weeks later and are quite determined their Rights to Reality organization will be prepared to implement or garner full support by March 2010.

Illinois (Chicago)

The BOR group in Illinois, comprised of multi-organizations concerned with the children of incarcerated parents, mostly in the Chicago area, held their legislative hearings with the Illinois House of Representatives Youth and Families Committee. Adult children, caregivers, formerly incarcerated parents, and providers testified. Two legislators talked about incarceration in their own families and one discussed past substance abuse, quite unusual in public meetings such as this. ‘There is hope for legislation in the spring diverting IDOC funding to family-based treatment. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless convened a collaboration of groups on the “percent to Prevent” concept with the focus on community-based alternatives.
Shortly after the hearing, the House passed a bill for video visits.

The Community Renewal Society, an ecumenical faith group in Chicago, very dedicated to the issues of the children, made specific requests of the IDOC, including child-friendly visitation policies, no limiting contact to a mere hug at the beginning and end of the visits; consideration of families in parole planning and transfer of parents closer to their families; funding of non-profit programs for visitation by children; 100 beds in family-based treatment programs under the Family Unity model for primary-caregiver parents.
To see an article on the hearings, go to the website of CLAIM (www.claim-il.org).

Arkansas

The BOR coalition in Arkansas helped to promote advocacy to abolish the use of restraints on pregnant, incarcerated women during labor and delivery. On October 2, the federal 8th Circuit ruling in a civil rights case brought by a woman who endured this practice (Shawanna Nelson) denied immunity to the guard who placed the plaintiff in handcuffs and shackles throughout the labor, removed during delivery only and immediately replaced. The case will come back to the federal district court, to be heard on the merits concerning cruel and unusual punishment.

The school-based support groups for youth impacted by a family member’s incarceration has greatly expanded, and division into sub-groups to accommodate all of the youth who want to be involved has meant subgroups of youth in foster care, youth of immigrants who have been arrested or deported, and a group primarily affected by parental incarceration.

Plans for new legislation for One per Cent to Prevent funding, passed previously, a commission to review cross-agency policies affecting children of the incarcerated, and legislation for guardianship subsidies for the relative caregivers will be put forth in 2011, with support-building underway. deeann@arkansasvoices.org or www.arkansasvoices.org

Montana

The BOR coalition in Montana has printed their Family Handbook, addressing all stages of incarceration with tips for caregivers and parents in addressing children’s questions and concerns. For more information, contact Marty@theparenting place.org

New Mexico

Legislation (HB491)  was passed in 2008 which provided appropriations with the goal to avoid unnecessarily taking children into custody when their parents are incarcerated.    Six community-based agencies (i.e. Boys and Girls Club) recently received contracts from their state child welfare agency to provide referral services for police and public child welfare.  The community-based agency that receive referrals from law enforcement also work with the jails to do contact visitation and parenting support for jailed parents, as well as home visits to provide family stability with the caregivers and to provide resources.  They have arranged with their jails to add questions to their booking forms that relate to children, their safety, and any immediate needs the children may experience as a result of the arrest.  They have started traveling around the state to conduct law enforcement training on child sensitive arrest practice with local police and sheriffs.  The legislation included language which required a TA provider knowledgeable about children of incarcerated parents is available to assist public agencies (Angie is the consultant providing this service).   Angie is also currently working with their legislature regarding the impact of state budget cuts, Early release program, and the development of a female parolee/young female parolee program.  The documentary, “Invisible Children” about incarcerated parents will air shortly on their public TV station   (Contact: Angie Vachio, avachio@comcast.net)

U.S. House and Senate

CSG Justice Center Applauds U.S. House and Senate Members’ Introduction of Justice Reinvestment Bill
Bill Helps State/Local Governments Reduce Corrections Spending and Increase Public Safety
Washington, DC—Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), together with Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA), introduced legislation yesterday that will provide grants to state and local governments to design and advance data-driven, consensus-based strategies to reduce corrections spending and increase public safety. The Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act of 2009 builds on the justice reinvestment work done by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in Texas, Kansas, Vermont, Rhode Island and seven other states.

“We applaud the extraordinary bipartisan spirit of this bill, which mirrors the efforts of Democrats and Republicans in states across the country to work across the aisle on this complex issue. It also couldn’t be more timely: legislators have learned that with the kind of information that the justice reinvestment approach provides, state and local leaders have better options than just trying to build our way out of our perpetual prison crowding problems,” said CSG Justice Center Board Chair and New York Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry.
In the past 20 years, state spending on corrections has grown at a rate faster than nearly any other state budget item, increasing from more than $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion in 2008. Despite this increased expenditure, recidivism rates remain high: a Bureau of Justice Statistics report indicated that half of all studied individuals who were released from state prison were re-incarcerated within three years.

In response, the Justice Center has worked with a growing number of states to implement the kind of justice reinvestment approaches promoted by this legislation—which provide policymakers with state-specific, data-driven analyses and policy options to help manage the growth of state prison populations, reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

“This bill will help state and local governments spend their limited corrections budgets in a more targeted, rational way to both manage inmate population growth and protect public safety,” Senator Whitehouse said.
In states where the Justice Center has worked with policymakers who have implemented proposed options, jurisdictions have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in corrections spending. These states have also reinvested a portion of the savings in strategies designed to increase public safety and improve conditions in neighborhoods where most people from prison return.

The Justice Center ‘s justice reinvestment initiative has been supported by a public/private partnership that includes the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Open Society Institute and the states receiving intensive technical assistance. The Public Welfare Foundation and Joyce Foundation have contributed to this effort as well.

The Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act of 2009 (S.2772/H.R.4080) authorizes the U.S Attorney General to make grants to state and local governments and tribes to help jurisdictions (1) analyze criminal justice trends to understand what is driving the growth in their local jail and prison populations, (2) develop tailored policy options to reduce corrections expenditures and increase the effectiveness of current spending and reinvestment that can make communities safer, (3) implement the proposed policies and programs, and (4) measure the impact of these changes and develop accountability measures.

Sentencing Reform Endorsed by 59 Members of the House of Representatives

For the first time, crack cocaine sentencing reform legislation received a favorable vote when the House Judiciary Committee in July approved the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009, H.R. 3245. The bill introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) ends the distinction in federal law between crack and powder cocaine, thereby eliminating the disparity in sentencing for the two drugs. The next stop is the House floor.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

  • To learn more about the justice reinvestment approach, see www.justicereinvestment.org. For more about the CSG Justice Center , see www.justicecenter.csg.org.
  • For a copy of the press release from bill sponsors, see http://whitehouse.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=69C4B8F5-4DDF-49FD-B2D6-3D4EBC1C4F4E. A copy of the legislation will be available at http://thomas.loc.gov.

From the CWLA Child Monitor:  Supreme Court Hears Case of Juvenile Offenders

Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard two cases regarding juvenile offenders who received sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole. The cases involve Joe Sullivan, who was found guilty of raping a woman when he was 13, and Terrance Graham, who pled guilty of committing armed burglary at 16. CWLA has signed on in support of an amicus brief in the cases claiming that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids sentencing individuals to life without the possibility of parole–essentially forcing them die in prison–for crimes other than homicide committed as juveniles.

Attorneys in the case made the argument that juveniles are different than adults. Juveniles are less culpable. Over time, they have the inherit capacity to change and potentially reform. In a similar case, the Court barred the execution of juvenile offenders in 2005 by a vote of 5 to 4, saying that people under 18 are immature, irresponsible, susceptible to peer pressure, and capable of change.

There are just over 100 people in the world serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed. All are in the United States and 77 of them are in Florida . Louisiana has 17 such prisoners; California , Delaware , Iowa , Mississippi , Nebraska and South Carolina have the rest. It is unclear when an opinion will be forthcoming from the Court.

Your Support is Needed for a White House Conference on Children and Youth

The possibility of a White House conference on Children and Youth is dependent on the passage of HR 618 & S. 938. Such a conference would allow children of incarcerated parents to be considered for the first time in the history of the White House’s conferences on children and youth. To make it happen, contact your congressional delegation and ask them to support these bills. Write to our president, urging his support. With the plight of all children in our nation more precarious than ever, and feedback from international observers that mass incarceration may be the greatest threat to child well-being in the United States, we need to be writing for support for this event. Please do your part by calling, emailing, and writing.

Facebook for Youth Impacted

The National Bill of Rights Partnership has arranged a FACEBOOK group called Youth Impacted by a Family Member’s Incarceration and Re-Entry. We are hoping youth who are impacted will respond with their own topics and to topical questions provided. We are especially interested in hearing about the role of shame and stigma in their lives, as the  more stories we have, the better job we can do in public education and awareness to stop the labeling and stigmatizing of children and youth coping with a family member’s incarceration. Spread the word!

For more information regarding the Bill of Rights Project, contact borpartnership@yahoo.com.