For Family and Friends
“Every time we talk about corrections reform, it really must begin with the realization that improving the chances for children…is not just a great investment financially, but our responsibility and the true answer to improving criminal justice in America.’’
Secretary of Corrections
One of the major initiatives within the Department of Corrections (DOC) is improving the relationships between the inmates and their families.
Strengthening this connection provides a support system that not only helps inmates find success after prison, but can also offer healing to their families.
“Sesame Project,’’ Activity and Resource Centers
Each prison offers free resource materials for families visiting the prison, providing information about healthcare, housing, education and other essential needs.
The “Sesame Project,’’ created by Sesame Street, provides free materials, available in all of our prison visiting rooms. These materials, including coloring books, reading material and videos, are all aimed at helping families discuss difficult topics such as trauma, resiliency and a parent’s incarceration.
All Pennsylvania state prisons also offer videos, books, arts and crafts supplies, games and other activities for children and their parents to use during visits.
“Read to Your Children’’
This program is designed to encourage inmates to learn to read, or improve their reading skills, so that they can read to their children and/or grandchildren. Inmates are videotaped as they read a book to their child. The book and the recording are then mailed to the child. This program serves to help establish and maintain a connection between the inmate and their children/grandchildren to enhance their relationship upon release. This program is currently being offered in most facilities.
In 2018, the DOC will be implementing Video Visitation in all facilities and select Community corrections locations. Approved video visitors will be able to schedule a Video Visit at the institution of their choice. Increasing Video Visitation will allow closer communication between families who otherwise may not be able to travel across the state for an in-person visit. There will be no cost to the families.
State Correctional Institution at Phoenix and the Female Transitional Unit
In 2018, for the first time, DOC will open a female transitional unit in conjunction with the new male facility, SCI Phoenix, in Montgomery County. Women who are nearing the end of their sentence may transfer into the female unit, which will also be closer to the families of inmates from Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Like the men’s transitional unit, the Female Transitional Unit will include efforts on family reunification, parenting skills and healthy relationships, as well as opportunities for community groups to mentor the female inmates as well as educate them on available community resources.
Inside Out Dad®
In the state’s male facilities, “Inside Out Dad®,’’ is an evidence-based parenting education program. This curriculum consists of 12, two-hour sessions. Facilitators may come from a variety of institutional positions (i.e. chaplains, treatment specialists, case managers, etc.) based on interest in the program and staffing considerations.
Parenting skills classes offered at SCI Cambridge Springs and SCI Muncy
The Parenting Program at the state’s two female facilities, SCI Muncy and SCI Cambridge Springs, has additional programming for women, specifically designed to strengthen families and communities by reestablishing family ties and preparing inmates to accept accountability and responsibility as parents. The intended result is to empower the inmates to exercise greater control over their own lives, the well-being of their families, and their communities.
Project IMPACT at SCI Muncy
“Inside Muncy Parents and Children Together” uses a child-oriented, homelike setting to provide a safe environment for mothers and minor-aged children to bond. Mothers receive on-site training and parent case management services. Project IMPACT offers mothers and their children the opportunity each quarter to have two free pictures taken when they visit, as well as to enjoy snacks and make crafts together.
In addition, while visiting at Project IMPACT, all children are eligible to receive a gift during the month of December, as well as during their birthday month. During the warmer weather, mothers and their children make use of the basketball court and playground equipment just outside Project IMPACT.
Thanks to the ingenuity of staff and artistic talents of inmates, children visiting state prisons have a unique and special space to play. Murals of Sesame Street characters, super heroes and jungle animals decorate and brighten the children’s play areas in visiting rooms throughout the state. At SCI Houtzdale, children are given supplies to create artwork and then may display their pictures on a special wall inside the visiting room. Both SCI Dallas and SCI Coal Township have specialized indoor and outdoor play areas for the children.
Several institutions have expanded and incorporated certain activities to include families and children. For example: SCI Dallas has a family fun day that includes guest speakers about parenting, children’s health care or some other educational topic; SCI Somerset encourages families to attend inmate graduation from educational and vocational programs; SCI Graterford, SCI Muncy and SCI Somerset hosted special holiday events with free cookies and special arts and crafts. At SCI Houtzdale, the inmate organization sponsors a “Family Greetings,’’ project where inmates can record a video for anyone on their visiting list for $5 and send them the DVD.
Transitional Housing Units
Facilities have a Transitional Housing Unit or a Reentry Services Office for inmates almost finished with their sentences. SCI Laurel Highlands hosts “Friends and Family Days,’’ to strengthen the connection between inmates and their families, publishes a newsletter with submissions from family members, as well as an active parenting workshop.
SCI Mercer, SCI Albion and SCI Dallas conduct additional parenting programs and encourage family reunification for inmates in the Transitional Housing Units and Veterans Services Units.
Almost all of our prisons have some form of dog training program – either future service dogs or rescue dogs that may need remedial training. Some of our facilities – including SCI Somerset and SCI Dallas – have taken advantage of the time in the visiting room to let the children interact with the dogs, while giving the dogs the added experience of being around children.