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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Children of Incarcerated Caregivers to Broaden its Work on Children, Family in the Criminal Justice System

Founded just this past year, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers (CIC) is a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization led by a team of local lawyers, scholars, and activists and staffed by a dedicated group of university students. With an initial focus on the relationship between parental incarceration and early childhood development, CIC has expanded its work.

Originally titled the Prison Nursery Project, the organization was formed by a group of professionals from a wide array of disciplines—including the program’s own director, Barb Frey—united by a single passion: promoting the best interest of families affected by parental incarceration.  Over this past summer, the non-profit’s team of graduate and undergraduate student interns took part in an initial investigative stage to study the impact of prison nurseries, where children are raised by their parent in a prison setting. From their initial findings, the interns recommended that the organization broaden its focus to include research and advocacy related to other aspects of the criminal justice system’s effects on children’s development. Based on this shift of focus, the organization changed its name to better reflect its broader purpose to effect change in local, national, and international communities.

Significantly, the organization’s researchers have been able to advocate for alternative sentencing options for caregivers facing a prison sentence. CIC research demonstrates that if a child remains with his or her caregiver in an alternative housing option (as opposed to being separated from a caregiver who is sent to prison), the child does much better developmentally and the caregiver is less likely to be a repeat offender. This presents a “win-win” alternative for everyone involved, according to CIC: the child benefits, the caregiver benefits, and the government may benefit from lower costs and reduced future offenses.

CIC plans to broaden its influence by operating in a network of other local organizations advocating in a similar framework. Through its partnerships, CIC hopes to bring change to the prison system by expanding the range of alternative options available for caregivers and their children, reflecting the most current findings and research.

This past fall, CIC held an open house on the University of Minnesota campus to present a preliminary report, with great success. As board member Julie Matonich explains, CIC hopes to make this an annual event that may highlight CIC’s accomplishments and increase awareness about important issues that affect families involved with the criminal justice system. For the future, CIC will continue to work with student interns to research other issues, which may include policies on arrests in the presence of children and ways to improve contact between children and their parents who are in prison. With other states—particularly Washington—as a model, CIC is interested in studying and providing recommendations for best practices on how law enforcement handles the arrest of a caregiver when a child is present, and how, with a particular focus on access to visitation and the quality of the contact between the child are caregiver, healthy bonds between imprisoned caregivers and their children can be maintained.   It further hopes to collaborate with experts from across the country and around the globe to share experiences and increase awareness of the impact of parental incarceration.

We are excited about the progress that Children of Incarcerated Caregivers has made over the past year, and we look forward to what may develop from its work in the future.