Funding sought to bolster Pa. programs for kids with parents in prison

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    Advocates are asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider ramping up state support of programs that mentor kids with incarcerated parents.

    The Department of Corrections estimates more than 81,000 children in Pennsylvania have a parent in prison — and those kids are at greater risk of landing in the criminal justice system.

    The agency’s Shirley Moore Smeal says mentors can help such children break the cycle of incarceration.

    “If we want to truly continue to impact and make a difference in our society, we must continue to fund programs that optimize opportunity for success for children of incarcerated parents,” said Smeal during a hearing before lawmakers.

    Dauphin County Judge William Tully, who oversees the juvenile division of the county’s Court of Common Pleas, said he sees the state correctional institution “warehousing” people, many of them due to mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes.

    “And it’s not necessarily accomplishing the end that we had in mind, and then we see that there’s collateral issues that arise from the lack of parenting, the lack of involvement, the lack of mentorship, the lack of role model,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to look at whether there are other options that better serve the needs of society as a whole.”

    A University of Pittsburgh study found that one mentoring program called Amachi greatly reduced the risk its participants would engage in criminal behavior.

    Amachi received federal funding until 2011, and is now funded with private donations and grants, according to the program director.

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