Krajewski: Dignity and forward thinking needed with approaches for incarcerated parents

HARRISBURG, March 19 – The House Democratic Policy Committee’s Subcommittee on Progressive Policies for Working People hosted a roundtable discussion focusing on incarcerated parents and the impact of incarceration on families.

Led by Subcommittee Chair Elizabeth Fiedler, state Reps. Rick Krajewski and Summer Lee facilitated the meaningful discussion bringing together advocates and formerly incarcerated individuals to discuss ways to best serve our communities and the families impacted by the criminal legal system.

“The trauma of family separation impacts the children and families of those incarcerated, and specifically the parent-child bond, as well as the whole community,” Fiedler said. “Those impacts are immediate and severe and they are deep and long-lasting. We deserve a legal system centered on people- and community-focused models of care that operate with transparency and accountability. We must take steps to a better future for our families.”

"We live in a society that doesn’t exercise humanity when we look at or talk about incarcerated people," Krajewski said. "So often, we forget that these people have family members who are trying to carry on while they are incarcerated, often including children who are especially vulnerable.” 

Lee added, “We sometimes lose how incarceration impacts so much more than just the individual. Entire families and communities are touched when just one person is incarcerated. Children and communities lose support systems. The parent/child dynamic is incredibly undervalued and understudied, but is of the utmost importance for the well-being of our communities and to show these children they have hope for a bright future.”

Rachel Lynn Santiago with the Dignity Act Now Collective and Naomi Blount, community activist and commutation specialist, Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, shared their experiences as advocates and formerly incarcerated individuals and the impact it had on their careers and families. Blount closed the hearing with a powerful musical offering, performing an original piece about transforming her experience with being incarcerated. Representative Donna Bullock, who was in attendance, said it was the first time she’d heard a musical performance as part of a policy hearing.

"My stepfather was incarcerated and so I know firsthand how incarceration affects an entire family and the damage that is inflicted on everyone, including innocent children," Krajewski shared. "For the benefit of the human beings who are incarcerated, and the family members and children who are waiting for them on the outside, we must ensure we are providing protections for incarcerated parents. It is for their benefit and the benefit of children who will no doubt experience lasting effects that we must give this issue its rightful attention. I'm grateful we had the chance to dig into this important issue during today's Policy Committee hearing, and I hope that today's conversation is just the beginning of more meaningful conversation that leads to real change."

Kathleen Creamer who serves as managing attorney for the Family Advocacy Unit with Community Legal Services highlighted the lifelong need for relationships and how touch plays a key role for the development of children. Anna Hollis, executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh, highlighted work with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to open new doors for a pilot project that will encourage interaction between parents and children, including classes and addressing stigmas.

Trauma-informed interventions that have proven successful can and should be implemented as shared by Dr. Yodit Betru, program director and clinical assistant professor, School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Jeffrey Shook, associate professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh, reinforced Betru’s support of trauma-informed programs and highlighted the racial injustices within the system.

Krajewski, Lee and Fiedler said they look forward to continuing the discussion on crafting policy and messaging focused on bold approaches that maintain public health and safety, and bring the focus to rehabilitation, correcting the failures of the criminal justice system.

Hearing video and testimony is available by clicking here.