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A Mother's Day Visit at Prison

A new report documents the efforts by families to change the juvenile justice system. (Citizens for Prison Reform)
A new report documents the efforts by families to change the juvenile justice system. (Citizens for Prison Reform)
May 6, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS - About 54,000 children are incarcerated in the U.S., which means their families will be spending this Mother's Day weekend without them, or visiting them wherever they're locked up.

Many of those moms are now fighting to end mass incarceration of young people and to make sure when teens are behind bars, they're treated correctly.

Karen Dolan at the Institute for Policy Studies is coauthor of a new report, Mothers At the Gate. She says the justice system is too hard on kids, and adds behaviors that used to be considered childish, are now criminal offenses.

"Children that have been in a fight, or that have been disruptive in school, or that in some cases have merely watched fights," says Dolan. "And all of these behaviors now are becoming so criminalized, especially in areas that are high-poverty and that tend to be black and Latino."

The report documents the movement by families to keep kids out of jail, keep them from being put in solitary confinement, and break what Dolan calls the "school-to-prison pipeline" because of what she calls "over-policing" in the education system.

Lois Demott's 15-year-old son was sent to prison and she says there were no support groups to help her once he was locked up, so she started "Citizens for Prison Reform." Demott believes parents and community members in Indiana need to pool resources so they can help each other.

"How to set up phone time, how to send money, understanding the system," she says. "We realized that there was a huge hole, and I saw just how many families were overwhelmed and lost, not knowing how to do basic things."

Demott says it's not just about her son anymore - for her, it's about fighting for every child.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN