On Sept. 10, the Harrisburg Patriot News ran an editorial about the problem of overcrowding and Gov. Rendell's related proposals. This week, a letter to the editor comes from Larry Gardner, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Harrisburg. He writes:
Crucial information was overlooked in the "Bursting at the seams" editorial (Sept. 10). Children are left behind when a parent is incarcerated.
Estimates from public/private ventures in Philadelphia report that more than 200,000 children in the commonwealth have at least one parent in a county or state jail. Of those children more than 3,000 live in the Capital Region.
The FBI reports that these children are 70 percent more likely to follow in their parents footsteps than other children.
Prison is not the place for family reunions. It is encouraging that our policymakers are looking at change. Let's not allow children, whose only crime was being born, remain vulnerable and invisible when it comes to policy changes.
The cycle can be broken. Big Brothers Big Sisters, locally and throughout the nation, have been effectively providing one-to-one mentoring to these children for years. The private sector has covered the vast majority of costs.
There are excellent statewide models in Tennessee and Texas (not soft-on-crime states) that have formed private and public partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters to mentor an ignored, yet growing population of children.
We should also be cognizant of the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents, which reads as follows:
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
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
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
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.