Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Prison has a mommy track :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Chicago Crime

Prison has a mommy track :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Chicago Crime
DECATUR -- Illinois prison officials are constantly frustrated by a revolving door, the seemingly endless supply of inmates returning shortly after they are released.

That was one reason there was an atmosphere of triumph on the E-Wing of the Decatur Correctional Center, as prison officials, community volunteers, inmates and former inmates marked the third anniversary of an innovative program that allows women to keep their babies with them in prison.

The infants live with their mothers on a unit on which each mother has her own room, with access to large day rooms decorated with colorful murals and outdoor patios. There are plenty of toys and books throughout the unit.

Michael Randle, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, commended the program, noting it is important that infants bond with their mothers during the first 18 months of their lives.

But the comment that sparked thunderous applause was related to the thorny issue of recidivism.

"Of the 25 offenders that have gone through this program, none, zero, have returned to this prison," Randle said. "That is certainly something you all should be proud of. Today is a celebration of your success."

Women now living in "the free world" were invited to the celebration, partly to show current inmates what success looks like.

Sylvia Martinez, 21, said she was reluctant to come back to the prison that she was so happy to leave on May 8, 2009, but she felt an obligation to let people know how much the program helped her. She returned with her 2-year-old Chloe, an energetic redhead who had spent most of her life on E-Wing.

"I cried a little bit when I came back in," Martinez said.

She said she cried much more when she first entered the unit as a pregnant 18-year-old in September 2007, convicted on a methamphetamine charge.

While she was an inmate at Dwight Correctional Center, a large maximum-security facility, she heard about the new program at Decatur, which is structured to serve women who will be released by the time their children reach 2 years old.

Chloe was born in Decatur Memorial Hospital on Dec. 19, 2007, two days after her mother's 19th birthday. Martinez was allowed to stay in the hospital with Chloe for a few days before they both settled on the Mom and Babies Unit.

Martinez was given about six weeks without a work assignment, a prison version of maternity leave, to focus on bonding with Chloe and developing good parenting skills. She received help from staff members and inmates on the unit, who are all mothers, all trained in child development and CPR.

When Martinez settled into a routine, which included studying for her GED and attending substance abuse classes, she realized her attitude was changing. The change was partly an outgrowth of the "really good bond" she was forming with Chloe.

"I was determined to get out and be the best mom for her," Martinez said, "so she wouldn't end up here."

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