On January 15, 2016, the Washington State House on Early learning & Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Ruth Kagi, held a work session that focused on three distinct issues: (1) Prevocational Services Report, (2) Children of Incarcerated Parents, (3) Executive Session: 2SHB 1999, HB 2323.
The segment of the January 15th work session that addresses the issue of children of incarcerated parents starts at 31.21 minutes.
In brief, during this segment you’ll hear from five speakers addressing the needs and concerns of children who have incarcerated parents. This work session provides important information about developments the state has sought out to address the needs of families entangled with the criminal justice system and child welfare services.
In 2005, Washington State began to address the issue of children of incarcerated parents. Washington passed legislation that created an oversight committee to explore the areas of concern with respect to children of incarcerated parents. In 2007, legislation was passed to set requirements of Department of Corrections, Department of Human Services and Department of Early Learning to establish policies to support familial contacts between children and their incarcerated parents.
In 2010, the state Legislature passed the Parenting Sentencing Alternative, which has two components that allow parents to either avoid prison or to transfer early from prison onto electronic monitoring at home to parent. The Family & Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA) is a judicial sentencing option where judges can waive a sentence within the standard range and impose 12 months of community custody along with conditions for treatment and programming for eligible offenders who otherwise face a prison sentence. The other, called the Community Parenting Alternative (CPA), is a prison-based option that allows the Department of Corrections to transfer an offender home on electronic monitoring for up to the last 12 months of his or her prison sentence in order to parent. In the last five years of the program’s existence the return rate has been eight percent. Fathers have been extremely successful. The overall state average of recidivism within a three-year period has been 30.4%. According to DOC the success of the FOSA program is due to its holistic approach, which emphasizes the needs of the whole family rather than just focusing on the offender. Community Correction Officers (CCO) are intensively involved with the families - up to 30 contacts with a family in order to provide services. Parenting programs focus on a parent’s ability to prioritize their children. For instance, parents are required to read with their children for at least 20 minutes every day and record those sessions for their CCO. The other requirement is that parents must have dinner with their children without any distractions from TV or other electronics. DOC provides dinner games that can stimulate conversation.
Thus far approximately 600 parents have participated in the program. Rep. Ruth Kagi asked: Why is this program not being used more since it has such a success rate? DOC responded that some parents do not meet the eligibility criteria – not deemed to be a primary caregiver or have committed a violent offence. Unfortunately, there was a missed opportunity to discuss whether expanding the eligibility criteria was being considered by DOC or explored with the legislature.
With 2013 Children of Incarcerated Parents Act parents have been able with the help of their attorneys to get in-person visits, as well as skype visits in order to avoid the termination of parental rights. However, parents are still struggling to access the law in a meaningful way. Even with the 2013 Children of Incarcerated Parents Act distance and lack of funds can inhibit social workers’ efforts to facilitate visits.
Department of Social Services is providing information about the law to parents, so they can better prepare to advocate for themselves. In addition, DOC is encouraging training on the law for social workers, as well as how to locate parents in prison and how to set up visits. DOC hopes that this information will be integrated into the social workers training within the next year. DOC also provides information to families of incarcerated parents about how to access DOC services to maintain contact with their loved ones. In all WA prisons there are family friendly events and activities, so children have a chance to enjoy spending time with their parents while they are behind bars. Each prison has a Family Council where family members can speak to the prison leadership about their experience and discuss what works and what needs improvement. There is also a state-wide family council that focuses on state-wide issues affecting families of incarcerated parents.
The speakers included:
Mary Helen Roberts, Former State Representative
Lillian Hewko, Washington Defender Association
Chris Matthies, Parent Ally and Formerly Incarcerated Parent
Carrie Kendig, Department of Corrections Susie Leavell, Program Administrator, Washington State Department of Corrections