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Allegheny County Jail Cited as Model in Reducing Barriers for Parents in Prison

In July, the Urban Institute released a new publication, “Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails: Reducing Barriers to Family Connections.” The guide describes an array of family-friendly practices designed to help correctional agencies reduce barriers to parent-child contact and communication and help mitigate the harmful effects of a parent’s incarceration on children and families. It cites the efforts at the Allegheny County Jail and references its model as a best practice in visiting and parent-child communication.


“I’m extremely proud of the work that we’ve done at the Allegheny County Jail since 2010 to improve relationships between parents who are incarcerated at this facility, and their families – particularly the children,” said Warden Orlando L. Harper. “The programs that we have in place, and this recognition, would not have been possible without the many stakeholders that help us provide services to the family, rather than just the individual.”


In its lobby, the jail has a Family Activity Center created for children and their caregivers who are waiting to visit. The center includes child-friendly features such as a craft area, video nook, book corner, and a giant pin screen providing fun for children and adults. Mock visiting booths allow children to practice for their visit.


The jail’s contact visit area also reflects most of the best practices included in the guide: painting the walls of the visiting room or painting murals on the walls, decorating the visiting room with soft, comfortable, child-friendly furniture, and providing age-appropriate books, games, toys, play tables, arts and crafts, and play rugs for the children.


“Coached phone calls are a unique service we offer as part of our Family Support Program,” said Amy McNicholas Kroll, Re-Entry Services Administrator. “During free phone calls with their children, parents receive support from program staff. This may involve staff helping parents think of questions to ask their children or offering parents encouragement and guidance through difficult conversations. Parents come away from these calls feeling like they are better equipped to have positive communication with their children.”


The publication contains 10 chapters that describe many low-cost, high-impact practices and provides correctional administrators with key considerations for implementation, evidence of the effectiveness of the practices, tips, and resources for implementation. The guide was developed with funding from the National Institute of Corrections and the Bureau of Justice Assistance with the goal of providing a valuable resource on family engagement to correctional facilities and stakeholders across the country.


The full report can be found online at the Institute’s website: https://urbn.is/2MC5gK6.


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