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Sometimes They Get It Right

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 22, 2018 00:04

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Those of you that have been reading my TLTs know that I am always willing to speak up when a prison system is doing things wrong. It is right to speak up when a system gets it right, too. In this case, the Colorado Department of Human Services got it right.

I’m sure everyone has heard of giving trees. You know, those Christmas trees that have paper ornaments on them with gift suggestions for underprivileged children. Last year, the state human services department, which includes youth corrections, child welfare, and the Office of Early Childhood, set up such a tree. It had just a few dozen paper ornaments on it and employees had removed them all within just a couple hours to buy gifts for the children those ornaments represented.

What made this tree different was that all the ornaments were for gifts for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who have a parent that is an inmate in a Colorado youth detention center. One of the staff members who took a paper ornament was the deputy executive director of operations for the Colorado Human Services Department. The paper ornament sat on his desk for a week while he waited for the gift he ordered to be delivered, and the more he looked at it, the more it seemed to him that just a gift at Christmas was not enough for those children or their incarcerated parents. He decided to do something about it.

Fast forward to the present and his “do something” is obvious. What is called a “two-gen philosophy” has been implemented. It is a tenet of social reforms targeting two generations, aiming for a better outcome for everyone.

A survey showed that of the 348 incarcerated youths in the state, 25 had children. The children ranged in age from infants to five years old and the parents were all between 17 and 20. All of the young parents were men and about half said their children visited regularly with one 18-year-old reporting that his two and four-year-old daughters visited every week.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the inside of a prison visiting room, but they are cold, unfeeling rooms with cinderblock walls and usually either bare cement or worn tile floors and the tables and chairs are cold, hard plastic. Visiting hours are short and only on weekends and holidays.

That has changed for these young parents. Visitation is now seven days a week. The walls of the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center, the largest in the state, now has blue painted walls, with more soothing colors to be added. It is getting new carpet for the floors, comfortable furniture, and bins of toys, games, and books. On sunny days, there is an outdoor park for the families to walk through. The goal is for a more familiar, comfortable surrounding to help parents bond better with their children.

For the parents, both incarcerated and free, there are job training classes, mental health care, and parenting classes. These are intended, according to the deputy executive director, to give the young parents hope for the future, a reason to be a good role model, and a sense of responsibility and pride.

At the very least, it is a step in the right direction.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 22, 2018 00:04

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WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers brought attention last week to an often-ignored injustice: poor prison conditions around the world....

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