By Kellie Shaw
I recently viewed a piece from the TODAY Show on MSNBC.com that featured the story of a unique and progressive summer camp titled “Prison Camp: Getting to know Dad- behind bars.” The summer camp, based out of Washington, D.C. focuses on the relationship between incarcerated fathers and their children. The program, The Hope House: Father to Child Summer Camps, is reportedly the nation’s first and only of its kind, offering summer camp for men in prison. The purpose is to generate strong bonds between fathers and their children, allowing 15 youth participants in the program. The children spend the mornings and afternoons in the prison with their fathers engaged in structured activities such as art, creative writing, music, and games. At night, the staff and the youngsters retreat to a local campground or conference center where they participate in other recreational activities.
Hope House DC’s mission falls right in line with that of ours here at JPI. Its aim to offer programs to fathers serving time, and maintaining a connection between them and their children certainly falls in the realm of decreasing recidivism and keeping incarcerated men connected to the community. Furthermore, this effort helps make reintegration a more smooth process – maintaining contact with family while incarcerated makes for a better transition once released. According to the organization’s website: “Studies have also shown that those serving time who remain in contact with their families while incarcerated have a lower recidivism rate.”
In addition to the criminal justice research that JPI conducts, my studies in communications and family relationships has made clear that the closeness of the family deteriorates due to long separation. I also understand as a mother of a preschooler that society depends on the parents to love and nurture their children, to toilet train, teach language as well as how to act in what would be considered a civilized manner. As author Al-Kaysi writes “The family provides the environment within which human values and morals develop and grow in the new generation; these values and morals can’t exist apart from the family unit.”
Organizations and programs like the Hope House aren’t just reconnecting families but making a larger impact in the community. Advocating and creating programs for these families raises public awareness about the nations’ current reliance on incarceration and the serious impact this issues can and will have on future generations.
I look forward to reading more about organizations and states making this part of their policy, how about you?