Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Governor Needs a Children and Families Agenda

Once again Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has given question to whether he has any agenda that includes the welfare of children and families. This time the Governor vetoed a request from the Department of Corrections to fund a program allowing babies to be with their incarcerated mothers at the women’s correctional facility in Lusk.

He said it was one of those “tough choices” he had to make. I don’t set out to be one of Mead’s critics. In fact I like the guy. But it seems that whenever he has one of those “tough choices” to make, it cuts against the best interests of children and families.

It isn’t the cost that made it a “tough choice.” We’re talking about a cost effective expenditure of 1.2 million dollars in a 3 billion dollar plus budget.

Research supporting the idea should make it an “easy choice” for the governor and the legislature. It saves money while saving families. Regardless of what you may think of the women who find themselves serving prison time, their babies are innocent. Regardless of the punishment you think their mothers deserve, these babies are innocent. If you believe retribution is not the only goal of a prison sentence and the community is best served by rehabilitation, there is no grater need than to maintain and enhance the relationship these moms have with their children.

You see, it doesn’t matter what we think about the women. They will be released from prison back into the community. The question their neighbors and all taxpayers should ask is whether they’ll come out of prison better citizens than they were when they went in. Other states have found that helping them to become good mothers goes a long way toward making them better citizens.

The idea of allowing prison moms to keep their children while doing time is not a wild hair. Its success has been demonstrated in a number of other states including among our neighbors in South Dakota and Nebraska. In his final year, Governor Dave Freudenthal supported the proposal but it failed to pass the Joint Appropriations Committee by a single vote. The Legislature said instead of “doing” let’s study. So they authorized a study of the project by Tobin and Associates.

The Tobin report concludes the project is worthwhile. “These programs have demonstrated to reduce recidivism among female prison populations,” the study said. Nebraska saw a one-third reduction in repeat crime among its prison moms.  

Legislators should not now ignore the study they commissioned. I suppose they can and some will cling to threadbare arguments that this is “soft-on-crime” but that ignores facts. The alternative is placing these children in foster care. Statistics are clear. Children placed in foster care do not fare as well as those who are allowed to develop a loving relationship with their parent. A large percentage of them follow parents into the adult corrections system.

The idea has the support of the Wyoming Association of Churches. “Not only do these programs strengthen the critical psychological and emotional bond between mother and child, they significantly reduce recidivism rates for the participating mothers compared to the other prison population. It gives mothers an opportunity to learn about parenting in a safe environment and is an incentive to use their time in prison positively.”
Other organizations touting themselves as defenders of family values should step up as well. Ultimately, this program is about family values. The director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections is not what anyone could call “soft-on-crime.” Bob Lampert understands the research enough to know that allowing a child to bond with its mother is good for everyone; the child, its mother and society.

Hopefully the legislature will see what the governor failed to see. If these children are not on the state’s agenda today…you can bet the time will come when many of them will be.

1 comment:

  1. We ultimately must decide what is the deciding force. Should the institutions define what is to be or should our basic human needs define what is to be. Our basic human needs are not faring very well and they do have their say. Maybe just not today but later, in an outside voice.