By Joan Pasiuk, member of the CSJ Criminal Justice Working Group
On any given day over 16,000 children have a parent currently incarcerated in a MN state prison. This was headliner testimony by Rebecca J. Schlafer, PhD, MPH at the February 3rd joint MN Legislative hearing of the Corrections Division and Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division. Of men in MN prisons, 66% are fathers and more than half lived with their children before arrest. Of women incarcerated in MN prisons 77% are mothers and most (66%) lived with their children before arrest.
The story continues for MN county jails, which hold adults before sentencing, for probation or parole violations or for sentences of less than a year. On any given day over 9,800 children have a parent currently incarcerated in a MN county correctional facility. Of adults serving time in county facilities, 69% are parents of a minor child.
The prevalence of school-age children with a parent currently or previously incarcerated is “staggering” and creates a “public health crisis” according to Schlafer. These children experience five times as many adverse childhood experience as kids without a current or previously incarcerated parent. Across every indicator examined, youth with a history of parental incarceration fare worse than their peers. The impact shows up in school behavior and performance as well as future health and development. Secure and loving adult relationships provide protective factors for these children but the health impact is deep and expensive to address.
Criminal justice reform is percolating throughout the U.S. In MN there are legislative efforts to reduce fines and fees, restore the vote to people reintegrating into the community, provide alternatives to incarceration for primary caregivers, end youth life sentences, and provide a cap on probation sentences. There is programming for birth support for moms experiencing prison incarceration and for parent and child contact in state and county facilities. These efforts frame critical social justice issues but there is much important work to reverse racial bias demonstrated as mass incarceration and to eliminate the criminalization of poverty and mental health. In the meantime, our kids pay a steep price.
The Criminal Justice Working Group of the CSJ Justice Commission collaborated with St. Catherine University in welcoming Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, to St. Paul on February 27, 2020. The day was filled with opportunities to engage with Sr. Helen and her passionate work for justice. Sr. Helen shared and inspired many with her “bags full of stories” from her life’s work as an activist against the death-penalty and from her latest memoir, “River of Fire.”
Over one hundred people gathered for a welcoming reception of Sr. Prejean at the Carondelet Village retirement community in the morning. Then members of the Criminal Justice Working Group and CSJ Community wrote letters to our dear incarcerated neighbors and people on death row. On her visit’s final day, the group also hosted a lunch for Sr. Prejean that included stimulating conversation. The highlight of the day for over 450 people was an evening gathering at St. Catherine University in which Sr. Helen shared during a public lecture. Hundreds more watched via live-video stream to multiple locations, including residents at the Carondelet Village retirement community. In her own words, Sr. Helen shared that she has become a warrior for justice because “what I saw set my soul on fire — a fire that burns in me still.” These various events with Sr. Prejean in turn set our souls on fire to also do our own direct advocacy on a variety of timely criminal justice legislations in Minnesota. Hundreds of signed advocacy postcards were collected by the community and will be delivered to our state elected officials in the coming weeks.
The Criminal Justice Working Group advocates for policy which focuses on rehabilitation instead of retribution. The Criminal Justice Working Group views restorative justice as an essential component in the healing of both victim and offender.
For more information contact Marty Roers at 651-690-7054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bold Moves for Real Change, Spring 2016 – Used with permission from the Ministries Foundation, www.csjministriesfoundation.org
To Sisters of St. Joseph Ruth Brooker, CSJ and Baya Clare, CSJ, the “dear neighbor” also lives inside prison walls and behind bars. Their work with women at the Waseca, Minnesota, federal prison connects them with some of society’s most vulnerable and isolated people. But, they tell us, the power of presence and the strength of community can be transformative.
Baya Clare, CSJ: One way I like to think of this ministry is to think about the first sisters and lace making. We’re not teaching someone how to make lace; we’re teaching them how to make a better life. But it’s kind of the same thing. How can they support themselves in some other way besides whatever they were doing that got them into prison? Sometimes that’s recog nizing when a relationship is unhealthy; we give them the signs of an unhealthy relationship and what a healthy relationship looks like. They don’t know that stuff. Many women got in trouble because they don’t know how to be alone, and they take up with the first slime ball that comes along. “It would be better for you to be alone than to be with some person who’s pushing you around, being mean to your kids, keep ing you isolated or not letting you have access to your money, we tell them.” They need instruction to do that, where to go, what to look for, and what to run away from. It’s how you make lace.