By: Andrea Axel, Director of Grant Programs at the Legal Foundation of Washington
The Legal Foundation of Washington recently made four $25,000 grants for groundbreaking projects to ameliorate harmful effects of mass incarceration in our state. Each grant will support a novel approach or collaboration designed to tackle problems that overwhelm people and families trying to rebuild their lives after incarceration. The projects described below will be underway this fall.
Using Video to Impact Criminal Justice Results
Social biography videos are an up-and-coming way to inform the criminal justice system about the impact that incarceration will have on families and communities. Studies have shown these simple videos are effective to improve outcomes of sentencing. They also bolster parental rights determinations for long-term family reunification. Washington Defenders Association will partner with Silicon Valley De Bug and a local artist to train attorneys how to make and use videos to advocate on behalf of individuals and to effect systemic change for incarcerated parents.
Installing Legal Information Kiosks in Prisons
Parents who are in minimum security prisons frequently find their parental rights are threatened by family law actions. They are powerless to defend their rights because they have no access to law libraries or to the required response forms. Northwest Justice Project’s RISE program will partner with the Department of Corrections and the Supreme Court Gender and Justice Commission to install legal kiosks in these minimum security prisons, complete with training for prison personnel and judicial officers. With this new resource, incarcerated parents will more meaningfully be able to advocate for their families to reconnect upon release.
Conflict Resolution Skills for Released Prisoners and Families
Most people released from prison are quickly thrust into challenging circumstances as they try to find housing, employment and transportation. Adjustment can be difficult, especially without a supportive network of family and friends. The Center for Dialog and Resolution will partner with other programs to provide training and support to prisoners and their families to help them successfully transition back into their communities. This will include pre-release conflict resolution skills training and facilitation for family reconciliation. After release the project will provide assistance to rebuild networks, including working with former prisoners and potential landlords, employers and social communities.
Video Visitation to Connect Children with Incarcerated Parents
Most women in prison are mothers and over half have children under the age of 18. Less than a third of these children are in the care of the other parent; most live with relatives or in foster care. This project was designed by incarcerated women to provide video chat capabilities between incarcerated parents and their children for families who would otherwise be unable to afford any visitation. Scholarships for ten video connections per family will be awarded based on criteria established by a team of currently and formerly incarcerated women. If the project is successful, Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project plans to duplicate the framework at other prison facilities.
These grants are the result of a class action lawsuit, Judd v. AT&T. The Legal Foundation of Washington administers residual funds that were allocated by the court in that case to legal aid providers and social service organizations. Because those funds are time-limited, the Legal Foundation of Washington is seeking to partner with other stakeholders to find ways to continue investments in programs proven to make a difference for this vulnerable population.