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When Families are Separated Because of Criminal Acts, This Technology Keeps Everyone Connected

July 18, 2014
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When Families are Separated Because of Criminal Acts, This Technology Keeps Everyone Connected
A pilot program at Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia is giving its female inmates a chance to speak to their children via video chats. Stefano Corso/Flickr
A Philadelphia prison program finds that video chats help improve parent-child relationships.

Sure, there’s the adage, “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” But anyone who’s been in a long-distance relationship can attest that maintaining the connection is difficult — and a lot of work.

That’s particularly true of incarcerated parents who are separated from their children.

But a pilot program in Philadelphia is working to change that. For almost a year now, Riverside Correctional Facility (which houses about 800 women) has been allowing supervised video chats between inmates and their children.

This increased ability to communicate not only has the potential to enhance prisoner morale and family cohesion, but it also allows the parent to have more say in decisions regarding her kids. All of this is very much needed, which is obvious from this staggering statistic: Since 1991, the number of children with imprisoned mothers has doubled, according to Next City.

More families could soon benefit from this program, says Jessica Shapiro, DHS chief of staff in Philadelphia, and the technology could even spread nationwide this summer. 

With the huge increase in incarcerated mothers, video chatting has the potential to revolutionize and greatly improve the childhood of those affected. Although parents in prison cannot be physically present with their children, and in many situations, social workers have to get involved, this technology does allow for more involved parenting and better outcomes for the family as a whole.

One family recently used a video chat to hold a “family team conference,” notes Shapiro. “A mother and grandmother who were both incarcerated, [and] the children and grandchildren were able to attend the conference at DHS,” she said. “The conference was so emotionally powerful for all parties that the facilitator had to actually stop the conference several times.”

While videoconferencing should not replace vital, in-person visits between inmates and their children, it does have the ability to increase communication, something that the general prison population needs— cutting down on wait times and keeping families better connected.

MORE: Born in Prison Herself, She’s Helping Women Break the Incarceration Cycle

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