Examining Policies Toward Children and Families of Offenders,
Wednesday, September 16, 1998 8:30 — 10 AM (auditorium)
Creasie Finney Hairston, moderator
Here we are at the final day of this conference on The Family and Corrections and this conference as you know has had a theme of investing in children, families and communities; and this has been certainly an excellent experience. For me it has been a reaffirming one, it has been intellectually stimulating and it has been one where I have been able to meet again with friends that I’ve known for a long long time, having worked with them for more than 15 years in dealing with issues that effect children and families when there is a family member involved in the criminal justice system and that family member is a criminal offender.
This has been spiritually uplifting. I think if we look at the beginning session yesterday morning, that was really a very powerful statement of the importance of personal growth and development in having support to grow individually and at the same time while this conference has been all of those “up” things for me; for many of us it has also been sobering because when I look back over more than 15 years I can see that while there has been tremendous progress in many areas, that there have also been some areas wherein we’ve taken some steps backwards and many of the kinds of things that we’ve thought, “OK that’s now stabilized” we’re seeing that some of that has slipped away. We’ve seen some changes around family visitation policies that are not necessarily pro-family. We’ve certainly seen increasing numbers of folk involved in the criminal justice system and we’re seeing that there is indeed a policy environment in many areas, not only criminal justice but also in the broader health and human services. We’re seeing a policy environment that is harsher, that is more restrictive and in many ways punitive. But we know, that indeed there are opportunities for change, but we know that change does not come by wishing that it be so, but by concerted efforts on the parts of persons that do have commitment who have understanding of issues who have compassion, concern, knowledge and certainly skill.
This morning we’re really going to be looking at, not so much the personal growth and development or the spiritual aspects of making change or even necessarily of specific programs, but we’re going to be looking at the environment that really sets the stage for much of the work that we do in the area of family and corrections. Though we’ll be talking about some very broad areas, that many of us in the past do not even think of when we’re thinking about family and corrections, they will indeed have relevance for the children in families who are involved in this kind of experience.
I know that I have not yet introduced myself, but for my new friends, You’re going to be my friends because you’re certainly here and you’ve shown an interest in this particular topic, I am Creasie Finney Hairston, and I’m the dean of the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago and I think more importantly for this particular meeting, I am a researcher and an advocate for poor children and families and I’ve been involved in family corrections work in that capacity for, you’ve picked up because I’ve said about 3 times now, more than 15 years.
Before I introduce the members of the panel, I think it’s important to acknowledge the person who’s really brought us together and who’s provided leadership for this effort and that’s Jim Mustin. Our ability to have a 5th North American Conference on the Family and Corrections and to bring together people from across the country was certainly a happenstance, but it was because Jim has really provided some stable leadership for Family and Corrections Network for a very long time and he’’, yeah–I think a little clapping here –is in order. He is in my mind one of those unsung heroes, who’s the kind of person you miss when they’re not around, but you may not necessarily acknowledge what they’re doing when they’re doing it. So Jim, I certainly thank you for the leadership you’ve provided for us to have a national network and to have a 5th North American Conference on the Family and Corrections I also want to thank and acknowledge the conference program planning committee for having the wisdom to look beyond Family and Corrections narrowly but to talk about a panel that really does bring in some folk who’s work is not specific to families who are involved in the criminal justice system but who’s work does impact what we’re doing in many different ways. Today we’re really going to be looking at several areas child welfare, kinship care, welfare reform, criminal justice broadly. Then also more specifically, communications policies that really may be not designed for families, have a direct impact on the ability of families to maintain themselves as family units during the period of incarceration and also to reunify, when indeed the person who has been incarcerated is released.
We have a distinguished panel there. We are expecting another panel person to join us, if that person does arrive, we will have 6 folk all of whom could talk for probably a whole day — we do have 6 people just in time here. But I’ll tell you a little bit about the format. I have asked the panel members to talk with us today about emerging policies in their particular areas and to talk about what has been or what is likely to be the impact of those policies on children and families of criminal offenders. They may be talking from that standpoint or they may be talking about what they may see as pro-family policies that we ought to promote if we really are committed to investing in children, families and communities; and to talk to us about strategies that have been successful in bringing about policy change. I now want to introduce the members of the panel. They will each speak briefly and I may have to interrupt those presentations. It will certainly not be because they’re not saying some really important things, but we do want each person to be able to present. And just as important we want to have a period of question, answer, comment and discussion that involves audience participation. And when you do speak as a member of the audience, I do want you to use the central mike. If the members of our panel today, and perhaps you can just kind of raise your hand when I introduce you so folk will know who you are. Mary Lee Allen, and I’m doing this alphabetically, and she is the Director of Child Welfare Issues at the Children’s Defense Fund, Mary Kay Purcell, who is a Legislative Assistant in the
Senator J. Rockefeller’s office. James Gondalls who is Executive Director of the American Correctional Association. Mimi Laver who is the Assistant Director of Child Welfare at the American Bar Association. Judge David Gray Ross who is the Commissioner of the Federal Office on Child Support Enforcement. And then Representative Allen Travillion who is a member of the House of Representatives of the State of Florida. So as you can see, we’ve got people who have some powerful organizations behind them and certainly some powerful messages and Mary Lee Allen I think we’ll just begin with you and our panelists will speak roughly about 8 minutes each.
Mary Lee Allen:
Thank you Dean Hairston. I’m very happy to join you this morning at this very important conference. As we look at how we can support both persons who are incarcerated and also their children and families who are working to support them. I’m pleased this morning to start off by addressing the impact of changes in welfare laws. on parents who are incarcerated, their children and other family members. There are some of us on this panel who could talk on a range of issues and I’m focusing specifically on recent changes in welfare laws.
In spite of specific gains programatically around the country in an effort to help incarcerated parents and their children, we’ve really seen at the same time some major changes. In 1996 specifically, in our welfare laws in this country that have impacted both the incarcerated and relatives and other caretakers who are caring for children during the period of incarceration. I’m addressing these changes because frankly the AFDC program or the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program, some of you know as welfare, has really provided a safety net in the past for families who are returning to communities and enabled them to participate in a range of other activities, employment and training activities, parenting activities and others. We took it and the Medicaid that came along with it for granted. We also looked to AFDC often, for relatives who were suddenly asked to care for children during periods of incarceration and needed that extra support to help them do so. Because of changes in the welfare laws however, we can no longer do that, that safety net is no longer there and therefore, in my very brief time this morning I’d like to focus on three changes in the Welfare law that have particular implications for parents who are incarcerated and other family members. But most importantly to focus on some very specific changes and opportunities for improvements that could minimize the negative harms of these changes.
First of all as many of you know, there is no longer a guarantee, a federal guarantee, for children and disadvantaged families in this country. To the contrary in fact, The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which I promise I won’t use that whole phrase again, and will refer to it as the 1996 Welfare Law, eliminated or replaced The Aid to Families With Dependent Children Program with a new program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, or TANF as some of you probably have already heard it referred to in your particular states and communities. What’s particularly important however, is with that change the assistance available to families, the public assistance available to poor families, now has a lifetime limit on it and families can receive no more than 16 months of assistance during their lifetime. So I’m not talking about a consecutive 16 months, but a lifetime limit of 5 years. States also have the options to set a limit shorter than that and a number have done that and even those that have stuck with the 5 year limit have in some cases put limits on concurrent receipt of assistance. So the opportunity for families who are at a serious point of disadvantage in meeting that particular point to turn to the AFDC Program, may well be limited.
This time limit on assistance means that welfare may well not be there for that safety net, if in fact the parent that’s incarcerated had already expended the five years of assistance before that period of incarceration. When she gets out then, there would be no available assistance to help her in that transition. It also means that relatives who have previously been able to care for children, may be also be facing a difficulty because they may in caring for their own children, have exhausted that 5 year limit. Therefore, when asked to care for a grandchild or a niece or nephew, may not be able to do so and also receive assistance for themselves. So certainly something that we need to look at that time limit the work requirements, which I’ll mention in a minute, also can have a very chilling effect on relatives ability to step in and help in that particular crisis and possibly push children into the Child Welfare System where their new time lines on decision making and evidences on permanency, which we”ll hear about later. To my knowledge however, and this is so often true of policy, relatively little attention was given to parents who were incarcerated as the welfare changes were being made. In fact I think I can pretty much say, it wasn’t uttered. I participated in much of that work. But there are some opportunities to take a look and I wanted to mention those quickly. First Federal Law allows states to exempt up to 20% of the case load from the 60 month time limit. For the most part those exemptions have been on the basis of age for older caretakers. They’ve been for purposes of domestic violence. But I would put forward that it might be possible to work with the state to define that exemption, to include parents who are reentering the community after a period of incarceration if reunification is the plan and efforts are being made to move children to move into employment and to be able to facilitate that reunification.
Second, the 20% exemption could also be defined to include caretakers and relatives who are caring for children, who if they did not care for them would end up in the foster care system. Again another way to look at a change that could minimize the negative impact of this policy change. And Third, advocates for families who are incarcerated and parents who are incarcerated should join with other advocates to try to insure that state dollars are available after that 60 month time limit kicks in to offer assistance to families who are making efforts to work and to get off assistance, but despite their best efforts are not able to find employment. Certainly another change that will particularly help this group. The second major change in welfare that has particular impact as well on this population, deals with the new emphasis on work and very specifically the challenge there is that in over half the states, families have to be working within 6 months of coming out of assistance. I think there are a couple very specific things we can look at in response to that change. First we can look specifically at seeing if there are ways to get that employment training activity going on before the parents are released from the correctional facility and to work together between criminal justice and welfare in doing that.
There are other things as well, but before I close I just wanted to mention one last specific change that has particular implications for this population. That’s the issue of families who have substance abuse problems. A problem in the welfare system but a group that’s particularly over represented as well in terms of incarcerated parents. Perhaps the most troubling change in the welfare was a lifetime ban on receipt of assistance for individuals convicted of drug related felonies. I’m talking about a broad range of convictions here. Obviously that could have a significant impact on parents who are trying to get themselves together after they leave the system. States however, have an opportunity to restrict that ban and even to eliminate it altogether. Another area where there’s an opportunity to make bad policy more responsive to the needs of families as they’re trying to reunify with their children and get back on their feet as they leave the system. So there are a number of changes in the welfare area that negatively impact incarcerated parents and other family members. But there are steps that can be taken to address them and we look forward to working with you to do that.
Mary Kay Purcell
Good morning! I first want to apologize for being late. I think my strength is policy and not sense of direction, so I try not to start my day too often by walking in 10 minutes late to public forums, but I apologize.
I really want to talk to you today on two levels because for the last three years before I came in Sen. Rockefeller’s office, I was a legal aid lawyer and an advocate for kinship care providers and I’d like to talk to you a little bit about the kind of the policy changes that I see to be necessary in that area and then move very briefly to my work on the Adoption Safe Family’s Act, which as Mary Lee mentioned institutes some new time lines for children in foster care that are very much going to affect incarcerated parents. At the Legal Aid Society, I ran a program called the Kinship Care Project and I was an advocate for kinship caregivers which we probably as any relative or friend who’s raising a child because the parents are unable or unwilling to do so. The main factors that we saw in the need for kinship care were HIV and Aids, substance abuse and incarceration . So one of the things I tried to do when I was working with the Legal Aid Society was to work with advocates in the incarceration to reach out and make sure that caregivers and the parents were working together in tandem to really address the needs of the children and also to support each other, which was something that people weren’t really looking at . I think to justify need, to make sure that a child’ needs comes first, I think that what we’d started to do was to ignore the needs of the family as a whole and so that’s something that we‘ve really started to look at.
For my first year in litigation there, I found that a lot of custody cases that I did happened between a caregiver who had taken care of a child for the length of the sentence that the parent had had and then the parent was released from incarceration and there was a contested custody suit that ensued. So one of the things that we were beginning to look at before I came to the hill was how can we in a similar way that we have mediation plans in a contested family law case, how can we get the parents of the child with the caregivers and kind of develop a plan for what’s going to happen after that parent is released from prison. How do we phase the parent back into the life of the child and how do we do that if the family wishes, outside of the system so that there is an understanding that everybody shares the same expectations about what’s going to happen to the child. The idea of shared responsibility, is hard after you have been the one who’s cared for the child for 3 or 4 years. How do the caregiver and incarcerated parent work together to make sure that that’s what happens. So along with the group called the DC Kinship Care Coalition, which is the non-profit advocacy group, we did do a lot of outreach to local prisons; especially with attention with women in prison, to try to talk about how they communicate with the caregiver; how we can make sure that the prison is allowing that kind of communication to occur because what we realized was that it wasn’t so easy to get letters out, as you all well know. It wasn’t so easy to get the kind of communication and regular communication that were necessary. How do we make sure that the caregiver is sharing things, details from the child’s life, such as report cards, and also facilitating visits with the child on a regular basis? So I really think one of the things, that some other states have started to look at as well, is something akin to family mediation; and to have that begin before the incarcerated parent is released from prison, so that the expectations are clear from the beginning about what’s going to happen. I think that really, not in all cases but in some cases, is really going to reduce the need for litigation where it’s not necessary and where it really becomes more damaging to the family. So these are the things I’ve been looking at on the local level.
A year ago, I had the opportunity to go to Sen. Rockefeller’s office to work with him on children’s issues and also the needs of caregivers on a national level. One of the first projects that I worked on, which is the Federal Policy I want to address today is The Adoption and Safe Families Act which you all have probably heard a lot about. The Adoption and Safe Families Act was a response to a growing perception that current Foster care laws, the laws governing the foster care system which required that a state use reasonable efforts to reunite a child with his biological family when abuse and neglect had occurred, had become reasonable efforts at all costs. Now I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I think there has been a growing perception that the health and safety of the child has become secondary and these efforts to reunite the family had become primary and that priority needed to be shifted. So what this federal law does is that for the first state that the health and safety of the child is the paramount consideration when any decision is made about a child in the foster care system. What it also did was to talk about efforts to reunite should be pursued where appropriate, but in those areas where the child’s been in foster care for an extended period of time; where it doesn’t look like reasonable efforts were working, there was a real push that adoption was the option that should be pursued, which you can tell by the name that the theme of the legislation is. One of the aspects that the legislation most affects incarcerated parents, is that the time lines for when termination of parental rights should be pursued are much stricter now. Specifically, the new law requires that a state proceed to terminate the parental rights of a child when a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the last 22 months. As you can understand, for an incarcerated parent that’s an extremely strict time line. One of the exceptions we tried and succeeded in putting into the law was to have 3 broad exceptions to that requirement so that the individual circumstances could be taken into effect and the state wasn’t necessarily trapped if in fact there was an incarcerated parent but he or she was responding while in prison, that they had made real progress in terms of recognizing for example a substance abuse problem and should be reunited with their child. So there are three exceptions, one exception is that at the option of the state the child is being cared for by a relative, I like to call this the “kinship care exception”, there is the situation where the incarcerated parent has arranged for the care of the child or the child is entered into the foster care system and the child has been placed with a relative. The second exception is when the state agency has documented a case when a compelling reason the filing of a petition would not be in the best interest of the child. We specifically did not define “compelling reason”, We hope that that would be broad to encompass some of the special circumstances we were talking about before. Finally if the state has not provided to the family of the child, such services as the state deems necessary for the safe return of the child. This responded to a concern that we were trapping families by not having services available to help the family heal and then terminating the parental rights didn’t seem just and so that exception is an attempt to address that particular issue as well.
I think that despite these exceptions, there is an important lesson to be learned from the Adoption Safe Families Act which there was a growing perception again in certain cases, and especially in those cases of an incarcerated parent and I certainly don’t share this view, but I think there was a palpable perception in our debate certainly with conservative members of congress that let’s say there is a situation where a parent is incarcerated for a few years, say 4 or 5 years, then maybe a child shouldn’t be reunited with that parent. In other words, that the child’s needs are put first. It might be better for the child to go into a new adoptive home than to stay in foster care for 4 or 5 years until the parent can complete the sentence. I think that’s something, that as advocates, we have to be aware of that growing perception and figure how ways that we can work together to address that perception. I think often the child welfare community, those who advocate for incarcerated persons, those of us who advocate for kinship caregivers maybe need to work a little better together to make sure that the needs of the whole family are considered and that when we bring ideas to Congress and to local legislators that we are working together to make sure the needs of the family are considered in each piece of legislation.
Thank you Dame Hailstone. I first want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be in an insulated room, without a television, a radio or a newspaper so that I get to for at least an hour and a half not to hear what’s going on in Washington, DC. As a matter of fact, for 28 years I’ve been one of these unique individuals that have lived inside the Beltway. I live in Arlington, VA, just across the Potomac River and so it’s a delight to wake up every morning and see the frenzy that the Washington Post and CNN and everybody else gives us for our morning news.
I just want to briefly say what my background is. Before I came to the American Correctional Association, for 20 years I was a Deputy Sheriff and then for three terms the elected Sheriff in Arlington County. As the Sheriff I was responsible for administering a pretty large jail in Arlington, an urban county the smallest county in the U.S. in area with a population of about 175,000 people. My entire background has therefore been in law enforcement and corrections.
Today I want to briefly address what I believe is a trend that has happened in our nation that I personally believe is wrong and I’m not necessarily speaking for the 20,000 members of the American Correctional Association. Last year we spent 26 billion dollars on corrections on the local and state levels in the 50 states in the U.S. and that excludes the big spending Federal government and the Federal bureau prisons. That’s just state and local jails. We have now approximately 1,800,000 adults incarcerated in prisons throughout the U.S. That excludes children and the juveniles in the juvenile system. There are over 4 _ million men and women on probation, parole or some supervised release or court action in the U.S. and as most of you probably know, we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Our rate is higher than South Africa and the old Soviet Union. For the first time in the history of our Republic, this past year, we spent more in capital outlay to build prisons than we did colleges and universities. That’s never happened in the history of our nation until this last year.
You may think it’s odd that somebody who represents the correction bill would be saying things like what I’m getting ready to say. I believe that many of us who work in jails and prisons in the U.S. believe the trend that we see toward the adultification of juvenile justice in the U.S. The American Correctional Association has taken some stands in this regard, but again I want to speak personally from my own experience to you today. I personally believe that it’s wrong on the Federal or State level to automatically bind over a juvenile into an adult court who’s been accused of crimes unless they’re the most serious of crimes. When I say the most serious I don’t mean drug crimes. I mean perhaps rape, murder, robbery, armed robbery where someone is feloniously assaulted and I believe that it’s inherently for prosecutors to make the decision on where a child is prosecuted or is tried. Maybe my judge friend here today will agree with me, I hope he does. That should be the job of the judge otherwise we shouldn’t have judges in courtrooms. We ought to let the prosecutor present his or her evidence, the defense attorney his or her evidence and let the chips fall where they will. The judge is there for a purpose, and the trend that we’ve seen for automatic prosecutor decision on where a child is prosecuted, I personally think is wrong.
Another trend that’s happened in many of the states of the U.S. is to open all juvenile records. I personally, again believe that that’s wrong. I believe that except in the most serious of cases, juvenile records ought to remain private. A child thinks and acts and reacts differently than you and I do. I know you will hear people throughout the nation say well 14, 15 and 16 year olds know better. Well maybe they know better than to commit these crimes, certainly adults do to. But they’re different than we are and they have different needs. The bible teaches us when we were children, we acted like children. But now we are men and we act like men and women, hopefully. I believe that we need to be careful in ostrasizing a segment of society who makes a mistake as a child by making public in newspapers throughout the nation, or radio or television, the records of a juvenile, again except in the most serious of cases. The third trend that I think that has happened in the U.S. I believe is shortsighted is to put juveniles in adult institutions. Now, there is a big debate raging within my own association about this; about whether or not adult prisons are equipped to handle kids. But, I believe the most conservative governor and the most conservative of any adult corrections commissioners in the country would say that even if kids are put in adult institutions they need to have special programs and they need to be kept separate and apart from adult offenders.
Ninety two percent of all the people incarcerated in the U.S. today will be released. Just shifting to the adult side for just a second and then closing, I want to say that I think the two things that we can do for our adult population is to teach them real job skills. Now prison industries is a great program, but in most states prison industries means making furniture and when a man or woman is released from from prison there’s basically only two places in the nation that make furniture, a lot of furniture anyway, commercially, North Carolina or Michigan. So if you don’t live there, that’s not a skill that probably is going to teach you much. I think we need better training in job skills and I think we need more educational opportunities for inmates so that they can come out of our systems as productive, tax paying Americans who support their families and support their nation.
Good morning and thank you for having me here. At the American Bar Association, I actually work in the center on children in the law. So what I actually do is to implement some of the child welfare policies that Mary talked about a few minutes. Basically what I do is travel around and meet with groups and talk about some of the different laws and lately it’s been mostly the Adoption Safe Family Act which is exactly the law that Mary talked about. I wanted to address a couple of the sections that I think Mary didn’t mention that I think affect you and I think affect prisoners and families and also talk a little bit about some strategies that might help in connecting families together.
Part of the Adoption Safe Family Act as Mary mentioned is the section on reasonable efforts and the perceptions that we are making reasonable efforts far too much so children were not safe in their homes or they were returning home prematurely. Part of what congress did is they set up a system, that in some cases social service agencies wouldn’t need to make the reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families once the children were taken. One of the areas where the agency wouldn’t need to make those reasonable efforts is if the parents committed certain crimes. Specifically they are crimes against children like murder, manslaughter or committing a crime that involves serious bodily injury to a child. So, if a parent is incarcerated or even not incarcerated because of one of those crimes, the judge in the case may decide that the agency doesn’t need to work with that family any more and that we could proceed to finding a permanent plan. In many cases that may be appropriate, and of course I’m sure that all of you know of cases where that is not an appropriate decision but it is certainly part of the law that I think you should be aware of and try to find out how your state and your local court jurisdictions are implementing that section of the law. One of the other things about ASFA, as Mary mentioned is that the time lines are really decreased. So even in the cases where the agencies are making reasonable efforts and are working towards reunification, there is an emphasis on getting children into permanent homes. In fact there’s a section of the law that talks about making reasonable efforts to finding permanent living situations for children. The agencies are mandated by this federal law to do that. So from the very beginning of the case, the agency social worker has to try to find a permanent living situation for the children that come into his or her jurisdiction, which is where I think all of you come in.
I think it’s very very important that from the time a child comes into care if there are family members that are available they should be stepping forward. If a parent knows, especially a parent who is incarcerated and can’t hope to reunify right away with his or her child, if that parent knows of a relative, a friend, a great aunt, whomever, who might be interested in taking care of this child, they should try to make arrangements right away. Because, I had cases when I was working in Philadelphia where years would go by, the children would bond with their foster parents and then a parent who was incarcerated would say, “oh you know my sister would have liked to have cared for the child”. But nobody mentioned the sister and so the child didn’t get to visit with that person and didn’t get to bond with that family member and then there was a question as to what was in the best interest of the child. Should the child stay with the foster parents or go with the family. So I think this is something to work with families and criminal offenders to make arrangements from the very beginning of the case, so that a child can be placed in a relative’s home, as Mary mentioned that would be a reason not to go forward with the termination petition, although there are cases, I’m sure all of you have worked with families where relatives have decided to adopt and that’s wonderful. But if the family has made the arrangement that they don’t want to adopt, that’s also fine, as long as the child is in a permanent situation in that home.
Some of the other things that I think we could work on together, is lobbying to try to get more resources and better resources for substance abuse treatment. A lot of the families that we come in contact in the child welfare system, those that are people that are incarcerated and not incarcerated are involved in substance abuse. The treatment programs in all of our communities are not really as good as they could be. There’s often not enough beds, there are waiting lists and the treatment programs aren’t always geared toward the specific problems that parents have in parenting their children while they’re involved in their addiction and staying bonded to their children. So I think it’s very important for people who are in prison and people who are getting out of prison to be able to get better programs.
Another area that I think is important with respect to children is better visiting situations for when children go to the prisons to see their parents. As you all know it’s a very intimidating situation even for an adult to go to visit a prison, so to bring a small child with the bars and clanging and the whole bit, can be very scary. I think all of you in your local communities can try to make the situation better, so that the children are not so stressed out about the visit, don’t come home having nightmares, the whole thing. It can be a more productive visit for the parent and the child to keep the family connected.
Additionally, I think parents need more access to the court system. When they are incarcerated and this is what we saw in Philadelphia, they are not always brought to hearings. It takes a lot of money to transport families and so sometimes, no disrespect, the sheriffs would say, oh no, no, no, the family courts are a low priority, we’re not bringing the prisoners, they’re from across the state, what have you. The parent can’t really be involved in the planning for the child if they are not involved in the court system. At the very least they should be able to have phone access to the hearing. They should certainly have access to their attorneys. Also, and I think Mary touched on this, I think they should be in touch with their caretakers and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be in touch with their agencies, social workers, their children’s pediatrician and the children’s teachers. For the parent to be able to keep up some sort of parenting role, they need contact with the people that are involved in their children’s lives.
Another area which is connected with the kinship care, is that of subsidized guardianships. Some of your states are working towards putting together subsidized guardianship programs. Others aren’t quite there yet. But, with that, just like some adoptions are subsidized, some places are willing to spend public money for people who are guardians. This is a more permanent situation than just a foster care placement but it’s not quite adoption and without the money, especially because of some of the welfare issues that we’ve heard about, it’s hard for people to take extra children into their homes. If they could get some sort of subsidy, that would certainly help.
Judge David Grey Ross
Good morning. Thank you very much for having me. I probably know more prisoners than anybody in this room, having been a criminal court judge on and off for 26 years, and got to know them pretty well. We had long correspondence with many folks who spent their time in jail. They wrote to me for years on end. Let me tell you, I just need to say this early on and that is that with the relationship I had with so many people in the court was one that many of them have done a very bad thing but they weren’t necessarily bad people. They’re just case after case of people who were helped. We always hear about the ones who were never helped, but we do hear about the ones that are helped in so many cases. I just think that we need to realize that in all that we do.
I changed jobs 5 years ago and was appointed to this job where we’re dealing with child support and you may be asking yourself, why in the world is that affecting you; how can that affect you? But we have public policies, which we are changing as best as we can to facilitate arrangements with parents who are incarcerated and their children. The very first one I can tell you had to do with the Brady amendment. The Brady amendment simply says, there cannot be a retroactive modification of a child support order. I had a fellow who had been incarcerated for ten years, was getting and for ten years every month that order was jimmied up so that he owed maybe $5million or something when he was due to be released. He came back into court immediately on his child support issue and told me he had been in jail and I said well we’ll just excuse all that time, those payments that became due while you were in jail. The council immediately said, you know judge you can’t do that because of the Brady bill. So I found the Brady bill unconstitutional, as a violation of the judge’s right to do things in the courtroom. The state never took an appeal because I think they probably thought I was right. What we’re doing now with it though, of course when I took this job, I wrote to Maryland and said, how dare you have such an opinion out there. That violates public policies.
So, we are now working on it a little bit differently. One of the ways is to recognize the fact that a person who is incarcerated has the right if they have an ongoing child support order, to move the court or move the administrative agency to reduce that order since they no longer have the ability to pay. Jim doesn’t know it yet, but Jim and I are about to enter into an agreement where we start the process of talking about the intake unit at the various penal institutions of bringing information to prisoners, men and women about the child support obligations and also the ability to seek a suspension. It’s an easy process now and I think that can be done. The other things we need to deal with of course, is to let everybody know we’re not the enemy. When I assumed responsibility for this program, the Washington Post printed a story that said, Prince George has sent in their bill collector. Now I was really offended by that, I thought I was going into a children’s program. The sign above my door, and every piece of material that we publish says, “children first”. That’s my view of life, that we’re about serving children and their needs and we really need to recognize that the children are the ones who need to be served.
To tell you another brief war story and that is that a fellow from Prince George’s County who was about to be released from a penitentiary, and he wrote to me and said, “Ok so I get out here in about 6 months. I want to see my child.” I looked at the file, because I didn’t know him, and he said there was another kind of ________
I sent for that and you know it just doesn’t make sense for me. His child had been adopted out, parental rights had been terminated, this sort of thing. So we posted in the courthouse door – “Too bad, we didn’t know where you were!” He wrote back and said “Too bad, you put me here”. The net result was, I called the county attorney and said get yourself up to the penitentiary and see what we’re going to do with this case because I think the case would have been set aside. If it wasn’t, it should have been set aside because we in fact kept him from coming to the courthouse, we kept him from answering, we’ve done all these other things.
So it’s multi-faceted, has many sides to it but what Jim and I are going to do here we’re going to really begin the process of talking about doing two things, I think 1. Establishing parental rights and also disestablishing, I guess an ongoing court order so that at least people will be benefited by that. I think it’s easy to do, we’re into videos these days and we can publish 2000 videos in a hour and a half and there’s no reason we couldn’t ask state facilities to make that available to us. What do we do in child support? I can’t resist telling you about that. We do five things: we find people, we establish paternity, we establish court of support, we establish that court order of support and now finally, we’re into access and facilitation insuring that children have rights to both parents. That is critically important to us. In my first day in office, I sent a message to the field which said, As far as I’m concerned every child has a right to two parents, 4 grandparents and as many assimilated relatives as they can put together. A lot of that was taught to me in court. My very first example is when I was 32 years old when I was appointed and was by 20 years, the youngest judge in Maryland. This little boy named Stephen, and I had done something bad to Stephen and later he was released and he was in school. I visited the school and I looked up and this kid was coming down the hallway towards me. My sheriff jumped up, he was excited that somehow this child was going to hurt me. He just came up and put his arms about me and he said” Oh judge, judge, how are you?” and he turned to everybody and said “this is my judge, this is my judge”. At a later proceeding he told me that I’d been the only man in his life who had ever done anything in his life, which included incarcerating him. So we just need to work on all of that.
I do just want to end with one story, I’m probably over already, but Nicholas over here, Nicholas is in the front row. Nicholas travels a great deal with me and so since we travel a lot, I’m going to Denver today in about an hour and a half. When we travel a lot, I often have to call Nicholas to say bring this, bring that. I called the other day his five year answered the phone, Courtney is her name. I said Hi Courtney honey, is your daddy there? She’s just as smart as could be and she said “my daddy is at the store, my mommy’s on the potty, my sister’s asleep, we baked a cake, we put chocolate on it. Goodbye. That’s important to me because we do national policy, I think it’s very important that our message be clear understandable and that we need to be able to tell people what is expected of them. Again thank you very much for having me here.
Allen Trovillion, Representative, Florida House of Representatives
Thank you very much. You know I asked my staff person why I’m here and what is our committee doing. And the reason I’m here is the reason I’ve been sitting right here listening to the other members of this panel is so I can learn and when I see each one of you, what you’ve presented and the good judge there in his warmth. I certainly have learned a lot. After 40 some years in business, in the construction I retired and I ran for office and I’ve been serving in the House of Representatives for 4 years. Never expected the Chairman of the Corrections Committee. But after I became chairman, I saw the real need to do something different than has been done in the past.
When I was elected 4 years ago, they told me that we need to do something about time, we need to lock them up and the general feeling was to throw away the key. You’ve heard that expression so many times. But I’ve found that after visiting prisons to learn what’s going on and to visiting many occasions such as this, we have a greater responsibility.
When I read what’s going on in this conference here, and this particular panel says that we are going to examine policies towards children and families of offenders and certainly it just so happens that our committee right now in Tallahassee, which I have the best committee in the whole bunch, is doing a tremendous survey. I brought a copy of the survey along. It’s a 24 questions survey that’s been sent out to families that have been visiting their loved ones in the prisons and we’re now in the process of putting all this information together. The purpose of this survey is two-fold. The purpose of the project is to determine the responsiveness of the Florida Correctional System in providing safe and a secure family-oriented service. But the other thing is also to work with the families and make it more pleasant and easier for them to visit their loved ones. Too long we’ve been doing things like taking away some of their privileges and making it more difficult for them to serve. Also, it makes them feel like they are part of the incarcerated themselves, the way that they are treated. So we’re trying to make the families more visible as they are going to visit their loved ones. So let me just tell you a little bit, and I got enough material to talk for a long time, but I won’t. Maybe we can get to some of the questions. Some of the things that we’re going to learn from this questionnaire, let me just read them because it will be quicker that way and it’ll be exactly what we want to find out.
First thing we want to do is find what impact the state correctional system policies such as telephone, mail package policy, prison locations, transportation access and visiting policy have had on the families of the offenders. When you stop to think about that, those things have had a big impact. Does the state correctional system and the community administer to the families of the offenders? Protect and provide play areas to the children of offenders and provide parenting programs? Which states have innovation family oriented programs and is there research that demonstrates the programs success in inmate management and reduce recidivism? Next thing we’re going to find out. Are there any conclusions or observations that could be drawn from a review of national literature? And then we’re going to find out what extent can Florida legislature improve services to families of offenders? Support frequent visits and contacts. Promote and advocate a more family oriented philosophy of prison visitation in a safe, secure and orderly visiting environment. This is what we want to do and by doing that we have taken this survey and let me tell you what we’ve done with the survey.
We have visited, my staff has gone out in Tallahassee and visited 8 prisons around the Tallahassee area. By the way we have 60 prisons in Florida. We have over 66,000 inmates. We’re one of the largest there is, and we have a good prison system. We have a correction department that is very conscientious in doing a good job and our secretary says, if it ain’t broke, you’ve heard that saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But his philosophy is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but you can make it better. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make things better in the whole corrections system in Florida. Our staff went to visit 8 prisons. And from those prisons, there was one privatized prison in that group of 8, and in that group they made a survey of those who had visited their inmates and they selected them from both , so that they were men, women from all ethnic groups, color, all of that, so that we had a cross section.
We sent out surveys to 750 of them. We have had a tremendous response, almost half of them have responded thus far. I do not have the information for you right now, but I have some little glimpse of what we found out. We will have this available for you December first. I will get in touch with Mr. Mustin and ask him if he would mail this to everyone. I think you will find this very helpful to those that work with the prison system in your state. Of those 750 we also are sending , we just don’t want to find what the families go through, but we’re sending also to the corrections officers, 120 of them that work with the families as they come in. So we’ll have both sides of it because we realize that there are 2 sides to every situation. We also observe Saturday and Sunday visitations and church services at two prisons, conducted literature reviews and legal research, conducted telephone surveys of 12 most popular states, conducted the physical plant survey of all the visiting areas and surveyed the via E-mail, all 160 senate and house member district offices to determine which families of inmates have contacted their offices.
So these are some of the things that we have found out. We have found out about contraband coming in through the institution through the church or mail or visitation, gross receipts from telephone commissions, which is a big subject of this conference, average charge per call to persons receiving calls from inmates, policies governing inmate mail, postage and packaging and parenting programs and other programs which seek to strengthen the family ties.
These are just some of the things that we’ve asked about and are finding out and some of the things that we have found–let me just give you a few of them because time is going by, we’ll open it up to questions. Some of the things we’ve found out that they feel that the telephone rates are too high, it creates a financial hardship on the family and the family members, and certainly you know that’s true. And so they feel that they should be allowed to select the provider for themselves or use the phone card and they also feel that the 10 minute time is too short to talk to the family especially if there are children involved. We have an automatic 10 minute limit and the phone shuts off after that and the phone cuts off after that. The policy of approving call recipients in advance delays and prevents calls to family members and especially if a family member moves or changes his phone number, they must wait several months to get that reapproved. Sometimes you have as much as an hour or 2 hours delay in checking in to visit on a 6 hour visit on Saturday and Sunday. You have to stand there in the hot sun or maybe the driving rain or cold. You have no place to get out of the inclement weather. You have no place to put your young children, when you move into the area. Many of the facilities have no place for children. The food or beverage that they may have to eat may come from a vending machine instead of a snack canteen, where, because they’ve had problems with the canteen, they put it in a vending machine. That vending machine many times gives out of food by the visiting time is half over or if it’s not out of food, it doesn’t have the proper food for children. The children have no place to play. They sit in one spot. They feel that they’re part of the prison system themselves. These and many other things are the things that we’re going through in finding out about our visiting rights of the family. Now, like I say, we do a lot of things right, and this is not to condemn what we’re doing in our system. But the reason that I feel that I have a wonderful staff, is they’re doing a good job to find what the problems.
We’ll go back to the department of corrections and we’ll see what we can do to establish better policies and change the policies. When you get a system as big as ours, you have so many prisoners there, if you change an inmate from one prison to another, they might not have the same policy in that new prison that he’s just been moved. Therefore, they have to go through the same things all over again with those that are visiting and get those things straight to see how they do it. So, I haven’t covered nearly all the material, but if there are questions, later on we can answer them. But this is some of the things that we are doing. I think that if you will answer for our report after December first, we’ll be able to furnish you many things that we’ve found out to be true, not only from our state, but from around the country as well. Thank you.
Creasie Finney Hairston
I was wondering how we were going to this with 6 people and really 7 counting myself, because those of you who know me, know that I’m not a shy person and this is the topic that I have a lot to say about because I’ve done a lot of work and have been doing it a long time. But we do have an opportunity, and what I really want to thank this panel for doing, is sticking very tightly to the time limits and I really didn’t have to do anything other than say thank you and move on to the next person. But we do have time now for questions and comments from the audience. I want you to take advantage of the fact that we do have people here who are so very knowledgeable and who have really come to share that knowledge with us. Please step forward to the center mike to ask questions or to make comments.
I hope many people will get up here. I’m Jim Mustin and I’m with Family and Corrections Network. The number one policy issue that really just bugs me right now is telephone . The many department of corrections, most of them throughout the country, are making large profits for themselves off of the collect phone calls going to inmates. There was an article in US News and World Report, a fairly conservative publication, titled “Reach Out and Gauge Someone”. It was published over a year ago and is available through our web site if you want to read it today, because US News has it on their web site. I talked to an official in the state of Virginia, to give you an example, and asked him how much money the department of corrections was making off of their contract with MCI, which is strictly for inmate collect phone calls; how much money would come from that in the next year? He said well, $4 million, give or take a million. So we’re not talking about a small thing here. I believe that there isn’t any national policy on this, but it’s state by state and also even I’ve heard of presentations on how to get income for your prison. People are told, you know you could make money on phone calls. So, I think that I’m interested in any ways that people have in addressing all that. I know that there was a workshop here yesterday that Charlie Sullivan and CURE did. And, CURE has really been the group that has led the fight on all that. But, I just really wanted to bring it up.
If I might just start it off if you don’t mind, and then I think Jim has something to say.
As well. Jim we, that’s a good question. I went to that session yesterday. Right now Florida is getting about 18 — 20 million dollars a year off the telephone services. That’s a bunch of money. We do need to do something about it. That’s one of the reasons for our survey. But just let me say this. This money in Florida by law goes to the inmate trust fund and has to be used for their particular educational needs. One of the things that I’ve done since I’ve been chairman and I want to do before I leave office is to have an educational program that is better than we’ve ever had before. One that will help get an inmate back to where he’s ready to go back into society and be a productive citizen. Also, we’re working on a program aftercare, things like that, but we’re also working on a 3 based program. If we can’t change people’s lives and their heart then we are going to have a difficult time getting them back into society. So, this is what we’re doing with some of that money. But it does need to reduced, I will certainly agree. After we have our full report, we’re going to see what we can do to reduce that. But it has to be spent for the inmates right now. Jim, I think you have something that you want to comment on this.
Yes. Jim very briefly, we have the American Correctional Association just last year passed a resolution calling for caps or certain limits to the profitability. Very frankly speaking from personal experience when I was the sheriff in Arlington, we had installed an inmate telephone system and we had all kinds of telephone companies from as far away as California bidding to provide the services for us and they were promising us the sun and the moon. I’m guilty! We selected a phone company that gave us high profits. We used the profits for inmate canteen fund. But there’s only so many monoply board games and basketballs and things that you can buy with that fund. What I think needs to be done is that pressure needs to be put on departments to either use the money for computer and educational programs that they already have, and there ought to be a cap put on it. It’s wrong and I think most people in corrections realize that now. I think you’re going to be seeing a turn and there’ll be more and more departments who lower the phone costs.
Thank you. When I talked earlier about some changes that are occurring. This is one of those and we’re glad to see indeed, the shift to try to move this in the other direction because this is a major issue having to do with maintaining family ties during incarceration.
I have a comment. I usually don’t do this, but I had a bur under my seat as the judge was speaking. So this is a comment to you. I hope that at some time the child support laws will be revisited and especially in the District of Columbia, and as someone who is owed 36 thousand dollars in child support. With 2 daughters and the 36thousand dollars is for 12 years so that’s just 3thousand dollars a year, I don’t it needs to be forgiven because the person has never worked so he won’t have to pay the $36,000,$3.000 per year. So, I have two beautiful daughters who are now in college and I’m struggling as a single parent. That $36,000 could have probably sent them to one of the best schools in the U.S. if I had been given that money.
Perhaps I did not state it very well. What I had in mind was not to every under any circumstances, relieve any prior obligation. But what I was saying that if a person goes to jail, from that point forward, mostly because they don’t know that they can, there’s no mechanism in place to have that person seek a suspension of the payments while he’s in jail. This person is not locked up. OK, oh I know that, but I’m simply saying that But I’m simply saying the law needs to be revisited period. Well we’ve done that as a matter of fact in the last two years. It’s sort of hard to believe all the things that have occurred in child support. When I took this office last year we had established 455,000, last year we established 1.3million paternities in the country and our collections now are 13.3 billion up from 7.8 when we started. Child support, I would say in the country today, the 3 major domestic issues are 1. social security, 2. medicaid and 3. child support, because we do such a miserable job. We have 20million cases and last year we affected one penny of collection in only 4million of those cases and that’s just not acceptable. I think frankly that’s why the congress has been so eager to help us as an administration to do a better job. D.C. is doing a much better job. Oh yes, yes. What’s happened down there is that they’ve taken the program, moved it into Judge Farrons’s Corporation Council. So all the reports are that I received, that the collections are up and the paternities are up, except in your case.
I’m just pleased to see that the chairman of our corrections committee here. I’m just bubbling over. One thing I would like to make a comment about is that it seems to me that a system that incarcerates men and women and then tries to take care of that person that they have incarcerated and also try to take care of that person’s family on the outside should devise a better way than housing those people on the inside and paying them as much as 25 or 50 cents an hour to work. I think if those people on the inside were able to have jobs and if you want to get the private sector in there, which they’re trying to get in there anyway and for this prison labor. Pay them a minimum wage, use it for those children to pay child care, use it to send home to take care of those families so the state don’t have to take care of those families. Use the offset of that money to pay for the housing of the prisoner, then it seem to me that the situation can get a little better. That was my comment. The next thing I want to ask the question to maybe the judge or one of the ladies with child care laws, is that we passed the law recently that if anybody’s locked up for a sexual offense. This is a terrible law. Believe me I don’t agree with sexual offenses. But anybody that’s locked up for a sexual offense, they cannot, their children cannot visit them, their minor children cannot visit them. Families are families. It’s not the sexual offense against their child now. A sexual offense against anybody and not only that, and I don’t know if this is part of the law or this is how the department is just interpreting it but if you’re locked up on a drug charge and you have in your previous record, any kind of sex offense, then they will not let you see your children. Now I think first thing I would like the question to be, is that part of the law that if you’re locked up on one charge that they can look up your record and if you have any kind of sex offense then that can come into play to keep you from seeing your children. If a person is locked up for a sex offense and are not able to see their children they’re still in the visiting room with my children, her children, her children. So to me it don’t make a lot of sense. So, anyway my question is, is that part of the law? And , oh, oh for the American Association, please be careful of the language you use when it comes to standard for telephone, because of security reasons is too vague. When they say well you can have this call for security reasons, or whatever. Anytime you are making policies, if you use that word security reasons, it’s too vague. They can use any excuses for that.
Now this obviously is not my direct area. But I know of no federal law that, or mandate that would require such a provision by local correctional facility. Maybe Jim knows more. I will tell you one thing which is always interesting. My appointment was marred to some degree by a report in the US News and World Report that described me as the Ghoulish judge from Maryland that had been appointed. And given half of the facts, it’s like so many things. It was ghoulish. I had a man who was convicted of raping a young woman. He was incarcerated, he got out after 5 years. He got out a petition with a court to visit his child. She had had a child as a result of this rape. If I really believe in the theory that I do, that children are first, there was no prohibition there was nothing to keep me from doing that. I did in fact permit him to have visitation with his child. And, the fact that’s missing is that this was not a stranger, this was a rape case because the young woman was under age. So it was not a traditional rape case but all the media got excited and said what a bad judge I was going to be back in the early days. Simply they were upset over the fact that Judge permits rapist to see child. I would do it again today if I had to because this was not, there was no danger to anybody and I subscribe that children need both parents as long as both parents or either parent has the ability to provide support for the child. So, what you’re saying, I know about it first hand, this backlash that occurred. I mean people were just outraged. Much like the judge here in Montgomery County, I don’t even know which one it was, but gave custody to a child and public sentiment was that was a bad idea. What makes judges different, is that you get to see all the facts. There’s a lot more than what’s reported in the Washington Post. Thank You.
Creasie Finney Hairston
I do see several people standing now, so if we could just move along.
I wanted to comment more on that child support issue. First of all I wanted to say if you truly do go after only _______ people then I really admire that. Being a single mother of 4 kids, I had 2 kids with one man as a very young teenager. For years I was told that he didn’t have to pay child support because his father was under the age of 18. Until our older son was, he was 14 when our first son was born and 16 when our second son was born and I was told he didn’t have to pay child support because he wasn’t considered a legal adult. I kept questioning how did that make him any less my children’s father. Then I was told he didn’t have to pay child support because he didn’t have a job. I kept saying, I kept trying to appeal this decision and basically it was just all in the inner city and they kept saying what do you want, and I was just going to the state it was , what do you want us to do, he doesn’t work. I had two other kids from another guy, who again just worked jobs where he got payed cash and they had a hard time tracking child support and they just never went after these men to try to make them pay. I then went to prison, myself and my children went into state custody and fortunately a family member came in and took custody of my 4 children because their fathers’ were not responsible. When I got out of prison, I got sued for $10,000 in back child support saying that’s the money the state gave my mother, while I was in custody. I appealed the whole amount because I felt their fathers should be at least 50% responsible. I didn’t have a problem at all paying 50% because I felt that I was responsible and that I should pay the state back for the money they gave my mom. I did win that judgement. It was in agreement that they could garnish my wages. So for the next 3 years my wages were garnished from the day I got out of prison from my very first my wages were garnished. Which made it even more of a struggle, because when you’re just getting out of prison, you have a whole other set of issues, and now 55% of my income at first was garnished. Finally it got reduced to a smaller percentage, but I had to take it back into court. At the same time, neither one of these kids’ Dads paid child support. When I finally paid the balance of my child support to the state, they then tried to sue me again for the remaining balance stating that because they never found the children’s fathers, I was the only person they had to get their money reimbursed from. I appealed that and won and they since do not have a garnishment against me for the remainder of the $5,000 they say I owe the state while the kids were in foster care. I just want to say that if you truly are going after those people, I admire that because now my boy’s dad has just recently turn himself in for criminal non-support and my girl’s dad is currently under garnishment.
I think you’ve heard from me a couple of other days. I’m from Strafford County, Dover, NH. You heard the word interagency linkages yesterday and I’ll stress it again today. I’m surprised reaffirmed with the issue of interagency linkages to tell you that when the woman just stood up and said, we need a system where inmates work inside facilities they make money, they pay back and they have the tools to get out. I’m here to tell you that it exists. It exists in 38 states. I’m here to tell you that labor unions resist that that we pay comparable wages to the area we were certified through the bureau of justice and we do the things that make them not slave labor, provide the tools to pay off these things, provide monies for when they get. My inmates make electronics I’m in what you would call a small facility. So I’m also a representative of the country that say that any county, not just state, can do this. It’s there for the offering. I’d be glad to give anyone my address and ACA knows about it. American jails know about it. We need to link up there are good things going on and under family support. Example, 38 states are certified. I urge you since I’m trying to teach my inmates positive role models. Many of my inmates want to contribute to their family. When you do again make this thing to exempt them, you really need to look into, are they working and getting some money? I don’t care if it’s $10 or $20 a month, it teaches them that they have a role in their family’s life. So again let tell you that there is this thing, like I say but, also make them responsible even if it’s $10 or $20 a month because it says, I am part of my child’s life. I see pictures of children every day.
Virginia Jenkins, Philadelphia, PA
I also wanted to agree with the two women previous to my speaking, about the need of some kind of minimum wage for the inmates in order to have some child support and to give them some kind of sense of self-worth. The other thing too is it just seems that the whold system is becoming so much more a penal system, which I know it was originally. But there is very little sense of the other side looking at the needs of these prisoners when they come out of prison. We’re now making them stay 85% of their time, and what would be the possibility of releasing these men and women earlier and that money that the state is saving is put into something for these men and women to go on with their lives. It just seems as if we are making money off the backs of the poor. I wonder if MCI is going to give us an audit. I wonder if the state, the prisons will give us an audit of how that $18-$20 million additional money came into the prison. Is it actually going for software or is it actually going to peoples pockets that are working there. Comments. I don’t need any answers.
Creasie Finney Hairston
Let’s thank once again our panel and thank all of you for participating this morning.