More than 2 million American children will go to bed tonight with one of their parents locked up behind bars. And 60 percent of those little ones will one day end up there themselves.
Its a sobering statistic that the Violence Prevention Coalition of Southwest Colorado is on a quest to change.
The effort started this week with a community discussion with former inmates and family members of people who are, or have been, incarcerated.
Ive seen my kid thrown to the ground and handcuffed, one single mother, who declined to provide her name, said with tears welling in her eyes.
The mother said she doesnt entirely understand the circumstances around her sons latest arrest, which came while he was on parole after serving time for an alcohol-related conviction. But she does know what help he lacked after his last release and she often wonders if things might be different now if more support was available to him.
Without the right help, I feel like theres no chance for him to break this cycle, the mother said.
Shes not alone in seeing gaps in aid and services for those trying to start anew after a run-in with the law.
Its why more than a dozen local families attended a daylong event Thursday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds called Breaking the Chains.
Courtrooms and justice systems around the nation in recent years have been looking at ways to chip away at inmate recidivism rates. But more work is needed than those systems could provide if the efforts are to be successful and the chains that keep families bound to jailhouse visits are to be broken, said event coordinator Pam Willhoite.
Attendees agreed and spent the day working to identify service and aid gaps that inmates and their families experience. From preventive programs for children of incarcerated people, to improved programs within local jail and prison systems, to ensuring theres continuity of those efforts and help available after release, the groups comments covered numerous large pieces of poster board by the days end.
They did more than identify problems, though. They plan to play a role in fixing them through real community initiatives.
Among the issues group members said they hope to tackle first are education, job training, emotional support and meeting former inmates most practical needs upon release.
They and the Violence Prevention Coalition plan to move the efforts forward in the coming months through additional meetings and outreach efforts to community organizations that could help.
That kind of dedication and involvement has created change in cities and states elsewhere, Willhoite said, and the effort aims to repeat those successes in the local area.
The people best suited to identify and implement strategies for change are those affected most by incarceration, Willhoite told attendees. The work needs to start with us.
For more information or to get involved, call 247-2935.