Oregon lawmakers seek funding for incarcerated mothers
Largely due to private donations, a Coffee Creek Correctional Facility program that helps incarcerated mothers play a role in their childrens' lives has continued over the last few years without state funding. But according to program director Jessica Katz, the Family Preservation Project may not proceed much longer if the public sector doesn't step up.
"Without support of the state we lose the interest of private funders because they don't want to be the sole financial supporters of the program. They would like to see a partnership to see the program innovate and grow," Katz said.
New legislation, however, would change that. Senate Bill 720, whose chief sponsor is Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, and Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, would distribute $650,000 among potential other appropriations for the YMCA of Greater Portland to administer the program. The sunset date for the program, which Katz said currently serves about 150 Alternative Incarceration Centers a month, is listed as 2029. Coffee Creek is the only women's prison in Oregon and is located in Wilsonville.
The Family Preservation Project started in 2010 and lost state funding in 2019 after the Legislature did not allocate money during that session. Since then, Katz said, the program has cut its staffing budget but that the services it provides have continued apace.
"Longtime supporters have stepped up with generosity to keep the doors open," she said.
Some components of the program include the chance for frequent visitations between an adult in custody and their child, allowing a parent to keep in regular communication with their child's teachers and guidance for the AICs to improve their parenting and talk about their issues, among other things.
Katz said kids whose mothers are incarcerated tend to bounce around households and that their outcomes are poorer than those whose father is locked up.
At the same time, incarcerated mothers often feel a deep sense of shame for not being there for their children, she added. But Katz said the project helps them build up their self esteem and confidence that they can still parent inside a prison.
"What I have seen is it becomes a significant motivating force in coming out the other side of this experience. There's something very concrete to do this for (something) outside of oneself, the sense of profound responsibility as a mother to show up for her kids," Katz said.
Nova Sweet, who graduated from the program and was released in 2015, said she benefited greatly from being able to consistently connect with her child's teacher and even attend student-teacher conferences.
"She (her daughter) knew the teachers and I were communicating. For me it made me feel like she felt like I was involved in her life even though I didn't live in her house," Sweet said. "I think it made her feel more cared about and (that I) was paying attention."
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