By Ken Paiva. Originally published on fallriverreporter.com.
DARTMOUTH – Being behind bars is hard on anyone, but it’s especially hard on an inmate’s children.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office is expanding a ground-breaking program to address the family dynamic head on, focusing services on inmates and their children to reduce recidivism and make sure at-risk kids don’t go down the wrong path in life.
“Studies show that the children of incarcerated parents are about six times more likely to be incarcerated themselves,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said. “This new initiative will keep kids on the path to prosperity and give their incarcerated parents a leg up on success upon being released.”
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office was recently awarded a grant from the federal government of more than $700,000 for a three-year expansion of its True Course youth outreach program to include specific services and education for incarcerated parents, both during incarceration and after being released back into the community. The BCSO was one of a handful of organizations nationwide to be awarded the grant.
True Course is an evidence-based outreach program that uses the outdoors as a vehicle for change in at-risk youth in Bristol County. Created by Sheriff Hodgson almost five years ago, True Course takes kids referred by school counselors, service providers, community organizations, law enforcement and others, and helps them develop self-esteem and life skills through activities that stress team building, positive and effective communication, anger management, critical thinking and much more.
A group of kids recently celebrated the completion of the 12-month program with a graduation ceremony in front of family and friends at the Sheriff’s Office. This year’s graduates are Adisson Verissimno-Correia, Adedoyin Adeleke, Cole Camara, Genesis Pavao, Izayah Medeiros, Jaylon Williams, Josiah Desa, Nathan St. Martin, Nevaeh Pacheco and Wayne Yost.
As part of the grant expansion, Parent inmates will be identified at intake and will meet with the True Course Parent Facilitator to discuss the program and its benefits to them and their children. Inmates participating will take the 12-week evidence-based Parenting Inside Out program. They will also meet weekly with other inmates in the program for a support group.
The facilitator will also meet with parents weekly to provide feedback on the child’s progress and provide any letters, videos, photos or other materials the child wishes to share. In addition to the incentives of improved parenting skills and increased connection with children while incarcerated, the inmate parent will also be eligible to earn time off their sentence by participating, as allowed by state law. Following release, parents will participate in the Cognitive Life Skills program, a two-tiered parenting program developed by the National Curriculum and Training Institute.
The BCSO is also planning to offer in-person contact visitation between the child, parent and caregiver for participants, if signed off on by all involved parties.
True Course staff will work closely with the child’s family or guardian, who will approve all interactions with the incarcerated parent. Once released, the former inmates and their children will continue to be serviced by True Course with family activities such as hiking, canoeing, etc.
“The expansion of True Course to focus on inmates who have children is just another avenue we can take to reduce recidivism,” Sheriff Hodgson said. “Keeping these incarcerated parents active in their child’s lives while also helping them develop better parenting skills will help these families heal and succeed following incarceration.”
The child participants will see True Course staff once a week in a group setting with a life skills activity, which ranges from indoor to outdoor adventures. Additionally, they will have 1-on-1 mentoring with a True Course case manager and clinician to go over progress towards goals and look at points of emphasis, such as self-esteem, anger management, etc. During the school year, one weekend a month will feature a major activity, such as an overnight camping trip or weekend skiing in the mountains. Programming time will increase during the summer months.
The grant also allows the Sheriff’s Office to expand existing partnerships with the Family Resource Centers throughout Bristol County. True Course will also work with UMass Dartmouth on data collection and analytics.
For more information about True Course, please find it on Facebook and Instagram or visit www.bcso-ma.us/TrueCourse.html.