Tuesday, April 24, 2007
From goodmagazine.com: According to Good Magazine, Nearly half a million women are married to men in prison. Maintaining these relationships involves a constant struggle with an often unsupportive penal system, despite growing evidence that a healthy marriage is one of the best tools for rehabilitation. Welcome to the intersection of prisons, love and politics.
In a national climate where the promotion of marriage is prioritized and new incarceration initiatives are being introduced across the country, the intersection of prisoners and matrimony appears to be a political blind spot. The wives of inmates are still largely without resources or assistance, grappling with often exorbitant phone rates, long distances to be travelled for visits, hypervigilant visitation rules, and restricted access to information about their husbands’ well-being. Right now, according to a report by a leading scholar named Creasie Finney Hairston, “The correctional policies and practices that govern contact between prisoners and their families often impede, rather than support, the maintenance of family ties.”
As it stands, the only major institutional assistance for these couples is an unlikely offshoot of government support for marriage. In 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare-reform act that supported the idea that marriage is a tool for overcoming poverty, calling “marriage … the foundation of a successful society.” President Bush recently upped the ante with the Healthy Marriage Initiative, committing $750 million over five years to marriage promotion, some of which is going to marital programs in prisons. Marriage, the argument goes, has been shown time and again to benefit the country in measurable ways: married couples have markedly lower instances of poverty and crime. For prisoners, it also helps lower rates of recidivism, a big deal in a country with a soaring prison population that recently passed the two million mark and where 67 percent of ex-convicts end up back in prison. According to a recent study, a steady marriage was the number one factor preventing recidivism. Now, 24 states are teaching prisoners and their spouses how to listen, express their feelings, and resolve conflict.
Faith-based groups have been doing similar work in prisons for decades. Sometimes called Marriage Encounters, these weekend marriage seminars are hosted by several guards, the prison chaplain, and volunteer instructors, like Wayne and Marcia Kessler in Las Vegas. “The first thing we do,” says Marcia, “is teach about talking on a feeling level and how feelings are different from thoughts and judgments. That no feeling is right or wrong. Anger isn’t wrong, but smacking someone is.”
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]