The health of children and families with incarcerated loved ones in Louisville Metro is at the heart of our organization. We use a health equity framework to guide our analysis of the power systems that shape criminal justice in Louisville.
Using the health equity framework means LFJA must work on all three aspects: children’s individual health (leaves), root causes (roots) and systems of power (soil). Collecting and analyzing health outcomes and root cause data is essential, and understanding systems of power is equally important. Personal stories, past and present, are creative pathways to realizing how systems of power develop. Through stories, we see how individual choices are shaped by the soil and roots where they are planted.
When he was a young boy, Layfierre remembers his Dad being around some. He popped in and out of his life for a while. His father had multiple run-ins with the law and was in and out of the justice system. Layfierre hardly ever saw him. At one point during his teenage years, his Dad seemed to be totally absent.
Layfierre says he didn’t really have a childhood. He was always watching his nieces and nephews. He knows that is not what his childhood years should have been like. Now he knows that many people who grew up in a single parent home often experience the same situation. As a teenager, he felt like he missed out on a lot. Now he knows the importance of taking care of his family and being able to help them.
Layfierre didn’t finish high school due to what he calls “a communications problem about the school roster.” He was in a predominantly white HIgh School, when the principal sent for him. The principal told him he was not on the roster for that school, so he had to leave.
Young black men have
to be very careful
Lafayierre didn’t try to get into another school or go to college. He just stayed home and “did a lot of nothing.” When he was turning 18, he began having a lot of anxiety. Family experiences were causing him stress, so he focused on calming down. He played a lot of computer games to help him relax and took long walks at night.
“Young black men have to be very careful if you want to have the same kind of life that others do,” he says. He believes ,“You have to put all your cards on the table if you are ever going to end the game of racial stereotyping. In the words of one of his songs, ‘I didn’t choose this life, but I am rolling with it like a rebound’.”
If your reality is
someone else’s imagination, you don’t have any reality of your own.
“Music is a good way to talk about life,” he says. He also likes writing poetry, but he doesn’t
think it is as respected as an art form as Rap or Hip Hop. ”In poetry, you
think about the meaning,” he points out, “in RAP you are thinking about if it
Now in his early 20s, Layfierre has earned his G.E.D.,
learned job skills and become a gifted gardener. An artist at heart, he is
focusing on drawing and photography. He says when he is drawing everything
slows down. He is super focused. Sometimes, he says, he can express himself
better by drawing than capturing an image in a photograph.
At first, his photography was more about capturing an idea so he could remember and be inspired by it. Many of his early photographs were mainly for him, but now he creates more images for others. Photography is his most positive artwork. He believes without it, he might have ended up being in a dark place.
Layfierre exhibits his drawings and photographs, and he is
making some sales. When asked if he thinks having an incarcerated Dad
influences his art, he says people might understand his images better if they
know about his background. He likes it best when viewers get their own ideas
first. Then, he can explain to them. He is expressing his emotions and state of
mind, so he thinks viewers knowing his story may be necessary.
One thing for sure is that he does not want to be defined by who his Dad is. As a “Junior,” he has the same name as his Dad. So he “has to think of him” every time he writes his own name. I don’t want to be a statistic,” he insists, “doing what my Dad is doing now.” So he is going to stay out of jail for sure.
Layfierre says some of his friends may think he is weird,
but really he is claiming his own personal freedom. “If your reality is someone
else’s imagination, you don’t have any reality of your own,” he says. “I mean,
who do you think is going to give you the answer?”
The Special Project Team is happy to provide this FREE resource for strengthening protective factors and resilience for children and youth with incarcerated loved ones! The artmaking leaders use these 12 activities, along with Sesame Street resources, every week in the Vistors Lobby of the Louisville Metro Jail, so we know children and caregivers enjoy doing them. Also all of the art are can be made with free recycled or low cost materials.
Health professionals now recognize that having an incarcerated parent is an Adverse Childhood Experience. Protective factors are especially important for the health and wellbeing of children facing these adversities. When children can express their individual strengths and engage in social interactions incorporating protective factors, the result is dynamic forms of positive adaptations, which build resilience. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/ace/resilience.html
The Mayo Clinic
Health System also identifies problem-solving skills as important individual
assets enabling children facing Adverse Childhood experiences to build
resilience. They describe these skills as recognizing a problem, creating and
choosing action steps and producing a solution https://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/adverse-childhood-experiences/problem-solving-skills-and-self-regulation.Taken together, the protective
factors and problem-solving skills embodied in The Special Project art
activities provide concrete supports for children and caregivers with incarcerated
Kentucky has the second highest rate
(15%) in the nation of children who have had an incarcerated parent. This rate
is nearly double the national rate of 8%.
Having an incarcerated parent is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a form of trauma. This trauma can lead to toxic stress, which can harm health. For example, Alex, a character In Sesame Street feels sad and agnry because his father is incarcerated. I just miss him so much. Sometimes it makes me want to pound my pillow and scream. See the Health Impact Report on our research page for more information.
In Louisville, Metro, as in many cities across the country, there are significant racial and socioeconomic disparities as people of color and their children are most impacted by incarceration. Jefferson County Census data shows that while Black males age 18 and older represent only 9.2% of the population, yet this demographic group accounts for 31% of bookings and 43% of the incarcerated population at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections in 2018. This is in sharp contrast to the more proportional representation, either in booking or in custody, of White males 18 and over in Louisville Metro.
The significant overrepresentation of incarcerated Black males creates racial disparity as Black children become significantly affected by parental incarceration. In Louisville Metro, the growing effect of parental incarceration on children’s health and wellness makes action by our community imperative and urgent.
Having an incarcerated parent does not have to be a life
sentence for children in Louisville. Together, we can create a healthy future,
for example, by:
providing trauma informed education and trainings for parents, teachers, police, judges, juvenile and corrections staffs,
consider alternative sentencing in District Courts for defendants who are custodial parents,
creating innovative practices for strengthening protective factors for children and youth with direct experiences of parental incarceration
developing more family friendly policies and practices in our local criminal justice systems.
Louisville Family Justice Advocates is a “new” coalition, yet it is more than two years in the making. And 10 years before that, The Special Project, a lead partner in the coalition, originated weekly artmaking sessions with families in the Visitors Lobby of the Metro Louisville Jail beginning in 2008.
Now, across the country and in our own community, more people are waking up to the devastating impact of mass incarceration. According to the Sentencing Project, incarceration in the US increased 500% over the last 40 years. There are now 2.2 million people in our prisons and jails. An estimated 5,749,000 children have had a parent in jail during their childhood.
Kentucky is the second highest in the nation—15%–of
children who have had an incarcerated parent, nearly twice the national rate of
8%. Kentucky also has the second highest rate of female incarceration in the
US. Almost 71% of females in state custody are mothers with minor children.
Parental incarceration is now known to be an Adverse Childhood Experience,
which can be traumatic and have lasting negative effects, such as toxic stress,
on children’s health and wellbeing.
Doing social justice work on the scale and pervasiveness of
mass incarceration and its impact on children can be overwhelming and may seem impossible
to address. Especially now, when
communities at the local, state and national levels are polarized to the point
of contesting whose realities are real. AND when print, visual and social media
outlets portray different versions of what is news and what is true.
In the midst of this chaos and division, Louisville Family Justice
Advocates is a newly emerging coalition dedicated to more fair and equitable
policies and practices for families with incarcerated loved ones in Jefferson
County. Purposefully grassroots, LFJA
starts with criminal justice reform from the community up, where we work face
to face to reduce mass incarceration. As
a community-based coalition, we are innovating, evolving and out-right
borrowing social justice principles and democratic practices to help us reclaim
civic equity, empathy and reality.
Here are four principles and practices for doing social
justice we are using in these trying times:
“Nothing about us
Wikipedia traces this phrase to Poland in the 1500s. Who ever
used it first, it is critical for criminal justice reform today. JustLeadership
USA, which includes national Fellows from Louisville, rightly stresses that
people with direct experience of incarceration must lead criminal justice
reform because they understand the current system first hand.
Focus on creating
knowledge & solutions
With the breakdown and profiteering of news sources today, social justice organizations can help fill the gap by creating new knowledge and solutions that work at the grassroots level.
Over the last two years, the Special Project expanded its weekly artmaking activities to working for more fair and equitable policies and practices for children and families with incarcerated loved ones. In 2018, the Special Project partnered with Metro Louisville Center for Health Equity to produce a Health Impact Assessment showing how parental incarceration harms children’s health, especially children of color, in our community. Combining research and solutions, the report recommends corrective local actions to address this urgent public health concern.
Develop & maintain
a strong equity analysis
According to Nation Public Radio, the “word of the year” for
2018 was “social justice.” Based on my
personal experience, there are about as many definitions of social justice as
there are people talking about it, pro and con. Social justice is a great
concept, yet meaningful change requires a strong equity analysis linking
individual behavior, social, economic and cultural root causes, and the systems
of power that feed root causes and behavior.
An equity framework enables comparative analysis and reveals
disproportionate impacts. For example, all children may be harmed by parental
incarceration. Yet, an equity lens reveals that children of color in Jefferson
County are disproportionately affected because of the racial disparities in
impact, alignment and artmaking
Coalition is another word that carries lots of different
meanings. Clearly, a coalition involves
more than one group or organization, yet often how and why of coalition work is
not readily apparent. Collective impact is a strong component that requires
taking time for careful alignment of goals and actions. Artmaking is a valuable
tool for inspiring new ways of thinking, social connections and energetic engagement,
although way too seldom taken seriously in doing justice.
Focusing on our local criminal justice system, LFJA is
working on two positive actions to directly improve the health of children with
incarcerated parents: 1) a pilot program for District Court judges to consider
Family Responsibility Statements when a defendant is a custodial parent: 2) making
the case for improving conditions for family video visitations and consider
alternative technologies and practices.
Doing justice amid chaos and division requires ordinary
people to take extraordinary actions to address mass incarceration and other
pressing social injustices. The more we
share strategies and develop mutual support, the more hope there is for
substantive social change now.
Nikkia’s father was in and out of jail and prison from the time she was a baby. Yet she definitely had a relationship with him. She still recalls how her mother read letters to her from her Dad when she was growing up.
Growing up—and even now in her 20s—Nikkia feels like she was
always on the border. When she was in school, she was angry a lot. Yet she did
well in her advanced placement classes. Her father died five days after her 17th
birthday, when she was a junior in high school.
She still misses him. Looking
back now, Nikkia reflects, “If someone
had supported my Dad while he was incarcerated, he might have had a different
Nikkia’s mother managed the kitchen at a local nonprofit. Nikkia
says she grew up in the kitchen. She didn’t realize that culinary arts could be
a career option for her, however, till later in high school. Excelling in a program she loved, she saw
that adults started showing how much they cared about her. She believes having
an adult care about you is one of the biggest factors for succeeding in high
Nikkia says she “has had a lot of opportunities” since she graduated from high school in 2015. She apprenticed with Louisville’s nationally known chef Edward Lee, for example. Now she is working to establish a culinary arts program in a local high school. Nikkia sees herself as “really strong now.” Given the challenges she faced growing up, she says she “didn’t have a choice” except to be strong.
What is Family Justice?
The Criminal Justice system hurts families and children in our community, so it is important to recognize and work for family justice. Louisville Family Justice Advocates (LFJA) looks at how criminal justice policies and practices can harm parents and children in our own community. We work to advance family justice face-to-face with local stakeholders and decision makers.
Here is an important policy change LFJA is working on now:
A pilot program to create and test the use of Family
Responsibility Statements by local District Court Judges when making sentencing
decisions involving custodial parents.
When a parent is incarcerated it often means a sudden separation from children and caregivers. There is little opportunity to consider the impact on families. If the parent pleads not guilty to their charge, he or she may have to await trail for several days or even weeks. Family Responsibility Statements would give defendants, families, prosecutors and public defenders a chance to assess and mitigate the impact of children in all decisionmaking.
Because there are racial disparities in the impact of parental incarceration on children’s health in our community..
In September 2018, The Special Project, a member of the LFJA Coalition, worked with the Louisville Metro Center for Health Equity to research how parental incarceration harms children’s health in Jefferson County. The research finds significant racial disparities in the impact on children of color compared with the overall impact on all children in our community. LFJA advocates for all children, especially those disproportionately affected by parental incarceration, to flourish and thrive.
Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to advance family justice!
LFJA opens its 2019 year of action at The First Unitarian Church, corner of Third and York Streets, on Tuesday, March 12th at 5:30. Healthy snacks will be provided. All individuals and organizations are welcome to join us in working for equitable policies and fairer practices for families with incarcerated loved ones in Jefferson County.
The action meeting begins with an exciting panel of folks who are BUILDING LIFELINES NOT PIPELINES IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE.
Local incarceration affects everyone in our community, and we need to work together build lifelines at every stage of impact. This panel will show how their work is building lifelines for:
Early childhood development
Youth and juvenile justice
Families visiting their incarcerated loved ones
In September 2018, The Special Project, a lead partner in LFJA, partnered with Metro Louisville Center for Health Equity to complete a health impact assessment of parental incarceration on children in Jefferson County. See our Research Reports (link) for the full report and also a summary of Highlights. The report shows that parental incarceration can be harmful to all children by increasing toxic stress, and that children of color in our community are disproportionately affected by this public health risk. LFJA will be acting on the recommendations in the report and addressing this public health risk throughout 2019.