Dec 12, 2012

Supporting the Loved Ones of the Incarcerated

It is hard to underestimate the impact of incarceration on the loved ones who are left left behind. From the trauma of seeing a loved one arrested, to the effects of prolonged abandonment, the children of incarcerated parents frequently develop depression, anxiety, and behavioral challenges. The loved one's of the incarcerated often face many obstacles staying connected to their incarcerated family member, as prisons are often located far from the family's home and phone calls from prisons can be prohibitively expensive. Yet, we know that  post-release success is higher among inmates who have maintained family ties during incarceration. We also know that strong familial relationships are a protective factor in recidivism.

In a recent artitcle published on, "The silent victim's of incarceration," Harlem Community Justice Center's (HCJC) Director, Christopher Watler, talks a new reentry program, Reentry Family and Faith Circles of Support, a collaborative effort between, HCJC, The Interfaith Center of New York, and The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision,  that pairs young individuals, ages 18-26, returning from prison, and their families with a family social worker, a parole officer, a team of reentry specialists. The Intefaith Center organizes local clergy and a cohort of volunteers to support the families and to help create "welcoming congregations" for the formerly incarcerated in Harlem.  

 "Lots of times when a guy comes home, there's a lot of excitement, and the families welcome them back home," Watler said. "But very soon after the honeymoon phase of the release ends, the reality starts to sink in: When are you going to get a job?" For some, those pressures can lead them back. We don't want that."

The family social worker helps the entire family deal with the pressures of reintegration while using the positive, pro-social influence from family members to help the young person navigate life's vissicitudes.  From advocating for families being threatened with eviction, to mediating conflicts among family members, to matching clients with job training programs, the family social worker is available to assist the
entire family unit.

Local clergy, organized by the Interfaith Center of New York, visit the Harlem Community Justice Center when the young men report to parole to offer breakfast, a friendly ear, and supplies.

"If you're arguing because you don't have Pampers to contribute to the household," Watler said, "we want to help solve that problem in the short term until you get on your feet."

Since its inception last February, the program has worked with nearly 35 families. The program is generously funded by the J.C. Flowers Foundation.