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December 18, 2007

It takes a (big) village ... to care for kids with incarcerated parents

Mentorgrass Especially with crime and punishment issues becoming political issues (for both Ds and Rs), I hope everyone on the campaign trail will read this new commentary from the Christian Science Monitor. The piece is titled "Standing in for prison dads, moms: The number of kids whose parents are in prison has surged. They need caring adults to step in."  Here are snippets:

This Christmas, more than 2 million children will not have a parent home for the holidays because that person is sitting in a state or federal prison. These children, whose ranks have grown with the rising prison population, need caring adults willing to mentor them.

In 1995, 500,000 kids had a parent in prison. But since then, as sentencing guidelines have taken effect and probation and parole officers have taken a harder line, more kids are suffering for the mistakes of their parents. That costs them and society, because children of incarcerated parents are much more likely to end up behind bars. (A congressional report in 2000 puts that likelihood at 70 percent)....

A national program called Amachi shows the possibilities of matching caring adults with children of inmates. The effort began in Philadelphia as a public-private partnership in 2000. It went national a few years later and is now in 48 states and 210 cities.  It reaches 60,000 children of inmates. 

Amachi trains other established volunteer organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Volunteers of America to carry out its program across the nation. These groups in turn tap mainly churches and other religious institutions for volunteers. ("Amachi" is a West African word that means: "Who knows what God has brought us through this child?") The program fits the White House emphasis on federal funding for faith groups that do social work, and Amachi relies heavily on $200 million from the Department of Health and Human Services....

Only results justify continued funding, and Amachi can point to studies to back its claims.  A 1995 Big Brothers Big Sisters study shows that a child benefits generally when he or she meets weekly with a mentor over a year.  Amachi's own surveys show that two-thirds of their kids improve their grades, behaviors, and school attendance.

Despite Amachi's growth, the need for volunteers is great.  Girls are fairly easily matched to women mentors, but there's a long waiting list of boys. The program needs adult males, especially African-Americans.... Wilson Goode, who heads Amachi ..., is testament to the power of mentoring.  His dad was in prison as he was growing up, and his high school counselor dismissed college as an option. But Goode's pastor took a special interest in him and helped him get to college. That Goode became Philadelphia's first black mayor, shows the difference a caring adult can make.

More information about Amachi can be found at its website and through its on-line newsletters.  Thanks to this commentary, I have now added Amachi to my holiday donation list (details here).  In addition, I will now be waiting and hoping for some presidential candidate(s) to pledge to double or triple the funding for Amachi.  Even if we increased federal funding for Amachi by 1000 percent, the $2 billion spent on this program in a year would still be less than what we now spend in Iraq each week.

December 18, 2007 at 09:34 AM | Permalink


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Woudn't it be easier just to put the kids in jail NOW, because they probably will end up in jail, anyway.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 9:46:17 AM

What a stupid statement. You must be a fan of the current president. People, some people deserve a secod chance but in the reality we live in the bush justice department wants to take the lock them up and throw away the key approach.

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 10:16:06 AM

S.cotus, you ought to be ashame of yourself. Making these kind of statements show your true color.

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 11:28:03 AM

10:16:06 AM, There are a few problems with your argument that I think that you need to address. If you are a felon or related to one, I am not interested in what you have to say.

First of all, states, note the federal government are the ones incarcerating most people. Therefore, the activities of the “Bush Justice Department” are really not that important. Secondly, there is no indication that the “Bush Justice Department” has deliberately targeted for prosecution people with families for incarceration.

Bush did not “invent” the “lock em up and throw away the key approach.” It has been around for quite some time. Moreover, the DOJ, at best does not have the final say in how long you people go to jail for. This is a matter for the judiciary and Congress. As a practical matter, the individual attorneys cannot ask for the longest possible sentences at all times because it would erode their credibility.

As a lawyer, I am not a “fan” of any president. Presidents occupy a position. Moreover, even under a Kucinich Justice Department, people would be put in jail. Or, if you are a tin-hat: Even Ron Paul would put people in jail.

11:28:03 AM, One of the problems with your argument is that you do not explain why my argument is incorrect. Instead, you simply declare that I have shown my “true colors.” Are you conceding that I am correct? Are you conceding that I have simply uttered the truth, but you do not think that the truth should be uttered? I am curious as to why you frame your criticism as a personal insult.

So, I think we agree. Have a nice day.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 12:40:57 PM

Stupid article. How many of the inmates would be caring for their children? ZERO. Please deal with reality. I have sat in countless hearings in which defendants have children with multiple "babies mamas". The could care less about their children.

Posted by: Gary | Dec 18, 2007 1:02:00 PM

As much as a like a good stereotype, Gary (in fact, I invented the one about Hispanics being able to design and market breakfast cereals), I am not sure whether your stereotype about convicts not “caring” about children is correct.

I have a handy guide to determine whether people truly “care” about their children. If, for example, they let their children attend public schools or watch TV, they probably do not care about their children. If they don’t make sure that their children make the “right” friends and have a background that lends itself to success, they don’t care about their children. If the parents do not make enough money to ensure their success of their children, they don’t care about their children. Let’s face it: there is a reason that first-year associates make $150,000 per year: to support children. If you have kids and make less than this pear year, you don’t care about your children.

The problem is that there are many people out there that are not yet inmates that are having children that might not care about them (as described above). Do you have a plan for putting these people in jail where they belong?

Finally, if your role in the proceedings you witnessed was as something besides a lawyer or the judge, your opinion is probably is of little use.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 1:23:36 PM

Why cant you just say it was a stupid statement and you were wrong. In regards to the DOJ. It was a memo from the AG under the direction of Bush to ask the US attorneys to seek the max for every case they go after. He told them to seek the max. I am sorry I forget seek the max unless it is one of his friends Libby.

It was a stupid statement put there kids in jail. Every one in this country deserves a chance some not all deserve a second chance

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 1:48:42 PM

S.cotus, first of all my statement was not an argument. Secondly, "Woudn't it be easier just to put the kids in jail NOW, because they probably will end up in jail, anyway." is your opinion not a fact. As usual, you make statements and try to defend them via a legal argument. Yes, I do not believe all kids of convicted parents will become felon. If you have taken this as a personal attack then perhaps, you should refrain from making ridiculous statements. But because this was a not a personal attack but merely pointing out what your true color is, we can all sleep well....

11:28:03 AM

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 1:59:01 PM

1:48:42 PM, I think you made it up . There is no memo which instructs Assistant US Attorneys to seek the statutory (or even Guidelines maximum) Maximum in every case they prosecute. And, in practice, they do not. If there was such a memo, you would have provided a link to its text. It would also be comical for prosecutors to simply request "the max" on everything without even attempting to differentiate one defendant from another.

Whether people deserve a chance or not is a matter of perspective. I seriously doubt that people that watch TV or attend public schools really deserve a “chance.” Maybe they had their chance to go to a real school or study and they wasted it.

The difference between an “opinion” (or “position” as we usually say in fancy-talk) and a “fact” is nebulous. “Facts” are just one person’s position about past events.

I don’t know what it means to have a “true color” that you would point out. My “true color” is off-white, I guess.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 2:19:20 PM

Actually, in 2003 Ashcroft circulated a memo requiring US Attorneys to "Charge and to Pursue the Most Serious, Readily Provable Offense in All Federal Prosecutions" (see here: http://www.crimelynx.com/ashchargememo.html). "The most serious offense" is defined as the one carrying the longest sentence. That being said, there are (of course) exceptions to the rule, it's not rigorously followed across the country, and it doesn't appear to make reference to what sentence to seek following conviction. But, there you are.

Oh, and to the Commentator With No Name - go look up "satire" and have another go at S.cotus's comments.

Posted by: JDB | Dec 18, 2007 3:48:38 PM

So we are clear on this: the Ashcroft memoranda was really an attempt to limit different kinds of plea bargaining. It didn’t really have the desired impact nationwide because, quite frankly, many of its goals were impossible.

But, the memo did not say, “Seek the longest sentence.” Even on its face, it said: 1) based on the facts that are “readily provable”; 2) charge the crime that caries the highest sentence. There is nothing remarkable about this one its face. Telling a prosecutor to: 1) look at the facts; and 2) get as much out of them as possible is like saying “Go do what you normally do.”

The memoranda did not address what sentences to seek post-conviction. As a practical matter, as I said, no prosecutor wants to stand before a judge and say, “Our office has a policy of always seeking the highest possible sentence in every case.” A judge would then reply, “So, in your view, all defendants that are convicted of the same crime have neither aggravating nor mitigating characteristics.” The prosecutor would have to say, “Correct. We are instructed to argue for the highest sentence in all cases.” The judge would say, “So, I can’t take your argument seriously at all, because you are only making it because you are told to max out all sentences, and you admit that you are incapable of even trying to analyze individual defendants.”

Luckily, Ashcroft didn’t order that, and any prosecutor that DID do that would be chuckled at, because the judge would simply say, “I know what you are going to say and why you say it, so I am going to pretend to listen to your ‘policy’ and then analyze this case based on what the defendant says and what I think.”

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 7:03:57 PM

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