Families Before Profits: Research & Action

Artwork by Layfierre Mitchell

Free Telephone and Video Calls

Research demonstrates that regular contact is crucial to an incarcerated person’s mental health during confinement, as well as their ability to successfully reintegrate upon release. Providing free telephone calls is not a solution to over-incarceration, but is a key to maintaining contact with families and friends. (Learn more: The Hill: Importance of ongoing contact for prisoners). 

Current costs of telephone calls and projected costs for video calls set by Securus Technologies, a multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation, are unfair and prohibitive for families. Locally and nationally, the high costs of prison and jail phone calls drive families and friends into debt. (Learn more: When Phone Calls Send Families Into Debt). 

Monthly call volume records obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting show Securus collected $1.6 million in revenue from phone calls in the Louisville jail during 2020. (Learn more: Phone Calls Still Won’t Be Free When Louisville Jail Gives Up Profit)

No Digitizing Mail for Surveillance

A new money-making mode now being proposed by Securus is the digitization of mail to confined people. Letters and photos sent to prisoners would be converted to email for surveillance purposes. Written correspondence is more important now than ever with the cessation of all visiting, and the only alternative for families and friends who cannot afford the cost of phone calls. Moreover, a large percentage of people in the Louisville Jail are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any charge, so should not be subject to surveillance. (Learn more: Slate: Prisons Are Increasingly Banning Physical Mail).

In-Person Visiting As Soon As Safely Possible

From 2008 through March 2020, LFJA’s Special Project Team created art with families in the video lobby in the main jail complex each week. During that time, with no in-person visiting opportunities available, families often waited 2-3 hours for a 20-minute video monitor session. The Special Project Team witnessed 50-100 (and sometimes more) caregivers and children enduring long waits in the basement of the Hall of Justice to see their loved ones during the weekly two-hour artmaking activities.

Families and friends want and deserve in-person contact with their incarcerated loved ones. Research shows that strong family and social connections are important keys to successful re-entry for the person who is incarcerated, and make a difference for the well-being of their loved ones, especially children.

Be The Change You Want to See! 

Metro Council took a big step forward in June by approving the 2021-22 Metro Budget with the requirement that the LMDC discontinue generating revenue from phone calls after December 31st. Now, LMDC and Metro Council can go beyond banning revenue from phone calls and begin creating system changes in communications that recognize the health and well-being of people and families impacted by incarceration.

Now is the time to break the silence, change the narrative, and engage your neighbors, friends, faith and justice communities, and elected officials in re-thinking incarceration in our city. The conditions in our jail can be changed because it is under local jurisdictions. Here’s how:

  • LMDC’s current phone contract expires in January 2022. The terms of any new communications contracts should include a public comment period before the contract is approved.
  • Contact your elected Metro Council member: Email a Council Member | LouisvilleKY.gov. Let them know you support families over profit and safe and healthy communications between incarcerated people and their loved ones.
  • Community-based nonprofits and service organizations can support families with incarcerated loved ones by providing physical and mental health care, basic needs, educational supplies, peer mentoring and job opportunities.

Family Connections = Keys to Reentry

The above community mural, named “The Passage,” in the Exit Lobby of the Louisville Metro Jail portrays a bridge to the outside, images of loved ones, connections with nature, winds of change, prayers, and peace.

The following letter was written by the Louisville Family Justice Advocates Work Team (Annette Bridges, Leslie Clements, Judi Jennings, Shelton McElroy, LaTonya McNeal, Tony Newberry, Julia Richerson, Savvy Shabazz, All Of Us Or None) and submitted to Louisville Metro Council on June 6, 2021 to call for free phone calls in the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections facility while visitation is suspended due to COVID-19.


Dear Metro Council:

We must acknowledge the humanity of incarcerated individuals and their loved ones because the conditions in which we are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age have a profound impact on health.  And social connectiveness is a key determinant to living a healthy life and healthy families make healthy communities which is something we should all desire (Massoglia & Remster, 2019; Western & McLanhan, 2000).  In order to ensure incarcerated individuals and their loved ones are able to experience a sense of social connectiveness and realize the positive recidivism outcomes we all hope to achieve, we recommend the following minimum standards for visitation and phone calls.

It is imperative that Louisville Metro Corrections reopen in-person visitation and in the process establish health standards in order to ensure that incarcerated individuals and their loved ones are able to experience a sense of social connectiveness (Petersen et al., 2019). The physical presence of loved ones is instrumental to people’s sense of connection, identity, and overall emotional wellbeing (King, 1993). Visitation reduces recidivism.  In 2011, the Minnesota Department of Corrections conducted a study of 16,420 incarcerated individuals over four years and found that visitation significantly reduced the risk of recidivism.  Further, the study suggests visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were the most beneficial.  Visitation should be in a clean, well-lit space and accommodate the schedules of families.  Visitation should be allowed two or more times each week. There should be designated space in the lobby or waiting area to prioritize the physical, emotional and safety of children.  Children of incarcerated parents face profound and complex threats to their emotional, physical, educational and financial well-being and visitation with their incarcerated parents provide emotional support as they face these challenges (Fishman, 2008; Turnkey, 2018).

Phone calls should resume with a minimum of one call per day in a private space and should be free.  Phone fees disproportionally impact women and children. Women make up almost 90% of family members responsible for call and visitation costs of their incarcerated loved ones and more than a third of the families are in debt because of those costs (Suneta, et al., 2017). 

Incarcerated individuals are still members of our society and their presence through visitations and phone calls has a big impact on the emotional well-being of their families and especially themselves.  We want to reduce the rate of recidivism.  We want families connected as a unit.  We hope Louisville Metro Corrections will accept and implement our proposed changes.  We care about healthy families in our community and hope you do as well. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Louisville Justice Family Advocates


References

Fishman, S. H., (2008). The impact of incarceration on children of offenders. The Journal of Children in Contemporary Society, 50(1), 89-99. doi.org/10.1300/j274v15n01_11

King, A. E. O., (1993). The impact of incarceration on African American families: Implications for practice.  Families in Society, 74, 145-153. doi.org/10.1177/104438949307400302

Massoglia, M., Remster, B. (2019). Linkages between incarceration and health. Public Health Reports, 134, 8-14. doi: 10.1177/003335491986563

Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011). The effects of prison visitation on offender recidivism. St. Paul, MN: Author.

Peterson, B., Fontaine, J., Cramer, L., Reisman, A., Cuthrell, H., Goff, M., McCoy, E., & Reginal, T. (2019). Model practices for parents in prisons and jails: Reducing barriers for families while maximizing safety and security. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Corrections.

Saneta, d-V., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., & Zohrabi, A. (2017). Who pays? The true cost of incarceration on families. Oakland, CA: Ella Baker Center, Forward Together.

Turney, K. (2018). Parental incarceration and children’s well-being. Future of Children, 28(1), 147-164.

Western, B., McLanahan, S. (2000).  Fathers behind bars: The impact of incarceration on family formation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

“We Are Not Collateral Consequences”

Children of incarcerated parents are some of the most resilient children, profoundly impacted by a justice system that hardly acknowledges us.

It is time to share our voices and experiences of the consequences of our unjust system, so that we can lead the way to meaningful reform. Isabel Coronado, Next100 Policy Leader

Because “children are often thought of as collateral consequences to our parents’ incarceration,” Coronado and her Next100 cohort created this chart with children at the center.



Here in Kentucky, according to the most recent report,  88% of child maltreatment cases are identified as neglect or deprivation of necessities. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/cm2019.pdf

Louisville forensic pediatrician Dr. Melissa Currie points to “substance use, domestic violence and one of the highest parental incarceration rates in the country” as contributing factors. Kentucky is 3rd in the nation with its 12% rate of parental incarceration.

Similar rates in other states have led some national child welfare leaders to question whether neglect is being confused with poverty. These leaders maintain that a strength-based public-health response to poverty is more universal and would offer broad eligibility for health-oriented services. https://imprintnews.org/child-welfare-2/america-must-change-its-view-of-poverty-and-neglect/51659


Removal of children from their families due to neglect is especially concerning in Kentucky because of racial inequities in youth and adult incarceration.

As youth advocate Danielle Hempel points out, where “Black children are much more likely to be removed from their homes than their White peers.

The disproportionate representation of children of color in the foster care system is driven by a number of factors, including socioeconomic status and family structure, as well as bias and structural inequities. Poverty in and of itself does not account for the racial disparities in foster care.”

Putting children with incarcerated parents in the center of systemic change to end child abuse in Kentucky calls for racial and economic equity in all policies.