Adjusting family visits 6 months into pandemic
BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Gov. Doug Burgum declared Tuesday Children of Incarcerated Parents Day, which aims to improve communication between family members. In the face of a pandemic, that’s been difficult.
In 2013, more than 2.7 million American children had an incarcerated parent, according to Rutgers University.
Since then, the North Dakota DOCR started reshaping family access in their prison system. Due to the pandemic, all in-person visits at the state penitentiary were stopped months ago. Meaning residents like David Arthur Nelson can’t see any of his four children.
“It’s been really hard not seeing our families, to hold our kids, or not hug anyone, see our families and stuff. Of course, a lot of us don’t know what’s going on out there, being in here,” Nelson said.
To fill those gaps, the DOCR teamed up with Securus to provide free phone and video calls. The more kids you have, the more credits a resident receives.
“Separation through parental incarceration is really known as an adverse childhood experience. You see problems with attachment, school, social stigma and behavioral issues,” said Deputy Director of Transitional Planning Services Lea Quam.
But Tuesday, David is getting something better than a video call. He was released in the morning and will get to see his nine-year-old daughter for the first time in 6 months.
“These individuals are part of our communities. They’re a part of us. They’re going to be coming back. We want them to have healthy, vibrant relationships while they’re incarcerated, that way those relationships can continue when they are returned to our communities,” Quam said.
While Nelson gets reunited with his family, other residents like him are still waiting for the next-best option. In the long-term, DOCR leadership is meeting with Securus later this month about offering free video conferencing for residents and their families.
Securus has already approved the plan and hope to have it set up in the near future.
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