One of the saddest scenes you can imagine is the sight of a loved one being placed in a correctional facility. Watching a son, daughter, or a parent heading for prison creates an enormous amount of stress on a family. Knowing that someone very special to you is going to be locked up in a cell for months, or years, can cause incredible grief. What happens to children when parents are sentenced to prison? On any given day over 1.7 million children in this country have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison. Approximately half of the children with incarcerated parents are under 10 years old.
Related to this, is the increasing number of mothers who are incarcerated, which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports nearly 20,000women are in state and federal prisons in Texas. Studies indicate that minor children of incarcerated parents are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children. A recent report noted that parental incarceration creates severe challenges for children and families often resulting in issues such as instability in family relationships and structure, school behavior and performance problems, guilt, shame, social, and institutional stigma, low self-esteem, anxiety, and aggression. Beyond these problems, evidence indicates that many of these children follow their parents into the criminal justice system.
The Sentencing Project, a Washington DC-based research and advocacy center, working to reduce the use of incarceration in the United States, concludes that children of incarcerated parents are three to six times more likely to go to prison than their peers. In addition to lowering the likelihood of recidivism among incarcerated parents, there is strong evidence that maintaining contact with one’s incarcerated parent improves a child’s emotional response to the incarceration and supports parent-child attachment. In order to continue that parent/child connection, Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM) was founded by Brittany Barnett, a Dallas lawyer who had personal experience as the daughter of an incarcerated mother. She recently resigned from her corporate position as Associate General Counsel atORIX USA Corporation to follow her passion for criminal justice reform and dedicate her time to elevating GEM to new heights.
GEM is a Dallas based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, whose primary focus is to empower girls in grades K-12with mothers in prison to break the cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose. GEM partners with the Texas prison system and works to lessen the impact of maternal separation by strengthening the mother-daughter relationship through enhanced prison visitation sessions which include facilitated discussion between mothers and daughters, workshops and art therapy. GEM also works to equip girls with the tools to make positive life choices in spite of their mother’s incarceration by offering mentorship, leadership development, life skills, counseling and material support.
In the accompanying video interview, Jesse Ihde, a supporter and advocate of GEM, answers questions about the organization, its accomplishments, funding needs and the 2018 Cinnamon Roll Christmas CoffeeBenefiting GEM. Jesse is the daughter of Chuck and Lori Elsey, who are well-known in North Texas for their commitment to the community. Chuck and his son Chad are also the owners of Elsey & Elsey Law Firm in Flower Mound. For more info: www.girlsembracingmothers.org