by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents (SFPIP) was formed in 2000, with the support of the Zellerbach Family Foundation. SFPIP is a coalition of advocates, social service providers, and government agencies, who are concerned about families impacted by incarceration and, in particular, the children of incarcerated parents. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children is part of this coalition.
Children who have a parent in prison or jail face many obstacles in their lives and often suffer from the stigma of having an incarcerated parent. In addition to the physical separation from their mother or father these children must endure, they are often viewed only as statistics and fodder for the prison industrial complex. Those of us involved with SFPIP work to change society?s perception of children of incarcerated parents and to give these children a voice so that their needs will be met.
In October 2003, SFPIP published, ?Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights,? a document that was based on an original concept by Gretchen Newby, Executive Director of Friends Outside, several meetings and discussions of the SFPIP, and interviews of over 30 young people conducted by journalist Nell Bernstein.
Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Bill of Rights:
1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest.
2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent?s absence.
5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent?s incarceration.
7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent?s incarceration.
8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.
Of course, merely formulating a list of rights is not enough. So, in addition to listing those rights that all children should enjoy, the personal story of one young person is used as an introduction to a specific right and each listing is followed by a ?Next Steps? section which gives suggestions on what legislators, law enforcement, social services, and the community can do to enhance the lives of children of incarcerated parents. For example, in number 1 above, ?I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent?s arrest,? the story of ?Dave? is told and two ?next steps? are discussed, (1) Develop arrest protocols that support and protect arrestees? children but do not necessarily involve the child welfare system and increase the risk of permanent separation, and, (2) Recruit and train advocates to support children during and/or after a parent?s arrest.
The Bill of Rights has been distributed at several conferences and it is hoped that it will be adopted by the legislature.
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If you would like a copy of this booklet please write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102. There is no charge.