A New Program Called Beyond Bars Comes to Orleans Parish Prison.
Prison is tough; life behind bars is not easy. It is not easy for the prisoners and it not easy for the families they leave back home. Children of the incarcerated can suffer terrible consequences. Separation from the loved parent can leave the child scared and may change the course of their lives.
I often see clients deeply saddened, I see then concerned and scared for the child they left behind. I have often heard an inmate expressing regret for the crimes that took them to prison, not just in terms of their own lives, but for the lives of their children.
Unfortunately, it is often behind bars that a convicted individual comes face to face with the ramifications of their actions and the impact these have on their children. It might very well be that it is behind bars that a person gives, for the first time, a clear thought the example they have set for their children. My have clients often share with me their concern for the education of their children. If the child has been a good student, if the child as expressed an interest in a college education, the parent behind bars feels the burden of having abandoned their child and thereby truncating their future.
Orleans Parish Sherriff Marlin Gusman has established a new program called Beyond Bars. Criminologist Suzanne Mayo-Theus, lead efforts to start the program in New Orleans after working with other successful Behind Bars programs around the country. The Girl Scouts will run the program. The goal of Beyond Bars is to reunite incarcerated mothers with their daughters in the jail’s new kitchen once a month to share a meal, do activities and just have fun together. The idea is that both moms and daughters will benefit if they can develop and maintain a stronger bond. Hopefully this bond will encourage the child to get or stay on track to fulfill their dreams.
According to a 2009 study by the Pew Center, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation — one in 55 Louisiana residents is behind bars. In our estimation, programs such as Beyond Bars are essential to a successful reunification of families.
Five inmates with good prison track records and with children between the ages of 7 and 13 will launch; organizers hope that the program will grow to include more of the approximately 140 women in the jail awaiting trial.
We hope that similar programs will be developed in the future for incarcerated fathers with sons.
Beyond Bars was program kicked off this pass Saturday, it was the first time since the women were first jailed that they were able to hug their loved ones and talk to them without a glass partition between them.
When Sherriff Gusman welcomed toe participants he said: “The day you come in is the day you ought to start planning to get out,” Sheriff Marlin Gusman told the group. “You can see what’s out here waiting for you — positive things like this.”
I am Attorney Martin E. Regan, Jr. and these are my personal thoughts.