MENTOR Vermont Grant for New Circle Mentoring

i Nov 16th No Comments by

The Safer Society Foundation is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a $4,000 grant from MENTOR Vermont (formerly known as Mobius, Vermont’s Mentoring Partnership), which will help continue to fund the Foundation’s New Circle Mentoring program (formerly Children of Incarcerated Parents [“ChIPs”] Mentoring & Circles of Support).  New Circle Mentoring is part of the Safer Society Foundation’s mission to mitigate the impact of parental incarceration on children and families in Vermont.

According to a 2013 report by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice, children who have a parent in jail or prison fare even worse than other at-risk youth on a range of mental and physical health outcomes and educational achievement.  When combined with other sources of risk and adversity, parental incarceration increases the likelihood that a child will act out antisocially and engage in delinquent behavior, leading to an increased probability of that child’s being incarcerated as an adult.

Central Vermont’s need for a program such as New Circle – which combines a mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents with a comprehensive all-around support system – is undeniable.  Underscoring this need is the fact that, every year, about 6,000 Vermont children have at least one parent in jail or prison.

“Our research on the effectiveness of conventional mentoring programs in Vermont shows that they do not provide the long-term commitment and wraparound services these at-risk youngsters need,” says Mary Falcon, Safer Society’s Executive Director.  “We believe that children of incarcerated parents need long-term, dependable support – not just one-on-one but many-on-one – to help build the skills and community connections required for them to reach adulthood as productive citizens of their communities rather than as burdens and liabilities.”

Through the Vermont Mentoring Grants, MENTOR Vermont provides opportunities for Vermont schools and non-profit organizations to help make a difference for youth in their communities.  The Safer Society Foundation thanks MENTOR Vermont for its confidence that the New Circle Mentoring program can make that difference.

America’s Other Family Separation Crisis

i Oct 30th No Comments by

The fact that the U.S. has more incarcerated people per capita than any other nation on Earth has become a key political issue.

About eight years, ago that rate finally began to fall—with one exception: women and girls.

 

The population of women in American state prisons has increased by more than 800% in the past four decades. The number of women in local jails is 14 times higher than it was in the 1970s. Most of these women haven’t been convicted of a crime but are too poor to post bail while awaiting trial. The majority have been charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession, shoplifting, and parole violations. The result is that more than a quarter of a million children in the U.S. have a mother in jail. How did this national disgrace happen?  And more importantly, what can be done to turn it around?

Nowhere is the problem starker than in Oklahoma, which has the highest rate of women’s incarceration in the nation; 85% of whom are mothers. This New Yorker article is about the efforts of a Tulsa organization called Still She Rises that aids incarcerated mothers in Oklahoma.

Read the full article by Sarah Stillman – The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/05/americas-other-family-separation-crisis

An Innovative Approach to Mentoring High-Risk Children—A Safer Society Foundation Webinar

i Oct 10th No Comments by

On September 26, 2018, Mary Falcon, Safer Society’s Executive Director, and Erika Linskey, Director of Safer Society’s New Circle Mentoring Program, presented a live one-hour webinar sponsored by the Global Institute of Forensic Research (GIFR).

Mary began the presentation by talking about chronic trauma and ten adverse childhood experiences—ranging from abuse and neglect and to parental violence and incarceration—that were the subjects of a years-long study by the Kaiser Foundation and the Federal Centers for Disease Control. She explained how adverse childhood experiences effect a child’s brain architecture and negatively impact upon a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Erika then talked about Safer Society’s trauma-informed New Circle Mentoring Program—which focuses on children of incarcerated parents—and how the innovative structure and approach of this program can be adapted for use with all high-risk children. Erika and Mary then fielded questions posed by the live audience.

 

Click here to view a video of the webinar.

Ben & Jerry’s Foundation Vermont Community Action Team Supports Expansion of New Circle Mentoring

i Oct 10th No Comments by

We are proud to announce that the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation Community Action Team has decided to continue supporting the New Circle Mentoring program by awarding Safer Society a second grant! The $1,500 grant will help further Safer Society Foundation’s mission of mitigating the impact of mass incarceration on American children and their families by enlarging the scope of the New Circle Mentoring program, which is specifically designed to meet the needs of children who have at least one parent in jail or prison.

“The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was one of our first supporters when we established the mentoring program in 2017,” said New Circle Mentoring Program Director Erika Linskey. We are very pleased that the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation chose to continue to support our program as we enter into our second year of operation.”

The mission of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is to engage Ben & Jerry’s employees in philanthropy and social change work; to give back to our Vermont communities; and to support grassroots activism and community organizing for social and environmental justice around the country.

Community Action Teams (CATs) fund an array of community programs – social services organizations, cultural, recreational, or arts programs and community celebrations located within the state of Vermont. The CATs pay special attention to underserved populations including seniors, at-risk youth and low income communities. The CATs prioritize support for basic human needs and the needs of underserved areas of the state as well as organizations that are primarily volunteer-led.

Visit benandjerrysfoundation.org or call 802-846-1500 for more information.

Safer Society Receives Grant from the Walter Cerf Community Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation

i Oct 5th No Comments by

Safer Society Foundation recently received a $2,500 grant from the Walter Cerf Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation. The grant will help further Safer Society Foundation’s mission of mitigating the impact of mass incarceration on American children and their families by enlarging the scope of the New Circle Mentoring program, which is specifically designed to meet the needs of children who have at least one parent in jail or prison.

 “The goal of the New Circle Mentoring program is to increase the resilience and create the community connections our mentees need to overcome the obstacles they face to becoming emotionally and mentally healthy adults, and to support them continuously as they do so.” Erika Linskey – Program Director

The Walter Cerf Community Fund was established in 2001 as a permanent endowment to continue Mr. Cerf’s legacy of generosity in Addison County and beyond. The Fund makes grants to address charitable needs in Vermont, especially for the arts, education, historic preservation, and social services with a focus on grantmaking in Addison County and Brandon.

The mission of the Safer Society Foundation’s Fay Honey Knopp Institute is to continue our founder’s work of prison reform advocacy, with special emphasis on mitigating the impact of mass incarceration on the millions of American children and families effected by parental incarceration.

The Vermont Community Foundation inspires giving and brings people and resources together to make a difference in Vermont. A family of hundreds of funds and foundations, we provide the advice, investment vehicles, and back-office expertise that make it easy for the people who care about Vermont to find and fund the causes they love.

The heart of the Community Foundation’s work is closing the opportunity gap—the divide that leaves too many Vermonters struggling to get ahead, no matter how hard they work. We are aligning our time, energy, and discretionary resources on efforts that provide access to early care and learning, pathways to college and career training, support for youth and families, and community and economic vitality. We envision Vermont at its best—where everyone has the opportunity to build a bright, secure future.

Visit vermontcf.org or call 802-388-3355 for more information.

A Day at the Fair

i Aug 28th No Comments by

On Tuesday, August 7th, mentors and mentees of New Circle Mentoring gathered at the Addison County Field Days. For a few participants (Safer Society staff included), it was a first-time experience at Vermont’s largest agricultural fair. For the group as a whole, it was a fun and enjoyable summer’s day!

Mentors and mentees spent the day wandering through the fairgrounds. This provided an opportunity to allow these mentoring relationships to grow while enjoying everything the fair had to offer: games, livestock events, rides, fair food, and fresh milk!

The staff of Safer Society Foundation is grateful for the generosity of the Addison County Field Days Board who donated the entrance tickets and to the Counseling Service of Addison County that supported this gathering by contributing funds for game and ride tickets.

“It fills my heart that our mentees will begin the school year with a wonderful memory of summer!” expressed Erika Linksey, the Program Director of New Circle Mentoring.

The Fight to Eliminate Cash Bail

i Aug 10th No Comments by

Our cash bail system is a big reason why the United States incarcerates more people than any other country on earth. If you can pay bail, you walk free. If not, you’re stuck behind bars—sometimes for months, or even years.

Bail reform is one of many reforms needed to make our country’s criminal justice system fair and equitable. Click here to view an ACLU-produced video featuring artist and activist John Legend. Or watch below:

 

Mentees Attend Art Classes – Middlebury Studio School

i Jul 11th No Comments by

ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support Program mentees can now attend art classes at the Middlebury Studio School thanks to the support of our partner, the Counseling Service of Addison County! With kids on summer break and the weather being as hot as it has been, it’s a perfect time to get creative indoors.

Middlebury Studio School offers art classes specifically for children such as Colored Pencil Art, Whirligigs & Thingamajigs, Fairies and Friends, and so many more! Middlebury Studio School is a great place for children to open up and express themselves.

“Our mission is to promote the creative process and community through art and craft education for of all ages and abilities.”   – Middlebury Studio School

Mentors have registered their mentees for multiple art classes already this summer. One mentee decided she wanted to take a workshop where she learned the process of making a clay bowl. While this mentee was clearly excited about finishing a bowl of her very own (and painting it her favorite color!), she expressed to her mentor how much she enjoyed meeting the other children attending the workshop.


 

Are you part of a business that can contribute summer or after-school activities for our mentees (or have a great idea that we should know about)? We would love to hear from you! Please e-mail information and suggestions to: info@safersociety.org

It’s not just at the border. The U.S. separates families all the time.

i Jul 2nd No Comments by

“Every day, we lock parents up for decades in our prisons regardless of how it will affect their children, and no one bats an eye. Those who are demanding that children not be treated as collateral damage when it comes to immigration should be just as vocal when it comes to criminal sentencing.”

 

Read the full article here: It’s not just at the border. The U.S. separates families all the time.

ChIPs Mentors and Mentees visit the Middlebury College Museum of Art

i Jun 27th No Comments by

On Wednesday, June 13th, the ChIPs mentors and mentees got together as a group for the very first time since the program began in January! This group mentoring activity was hosted at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Jason Vrooman, the Curator of Education and Academic Programs, spent a generous amount of time coordinating with his staff to ensure that our group received the proper support for our event (which included art materials relevant to the exhibits).

The group also took advantage of the outdoor space on campus. The mentors and mentees were able to play a few games while burning off some additional energy. Dottie, the ChIPs Mentoring Program Clinical Director, had everyone participate in an activity that helped “break the ice.” Mentors and mentees learned each other’s names by tossing a sock around a circle. This activity sounds silly, but it was a wonderful way for this group to meet one another and form a bond.

The event was especially important to the Safer Society Foundation staff, as it allowed time for us to assess how our matches are doing and determine what additional supports can be provided to maintain a positive experience for all as the program moves forward.

 

Disrupted Attachments and the Global Health Implications of Parental Incarceration on the Child

i Jun 6th No Comments by

Congratulations to Katelen Fortunati, LCSW, author of the Safer Society ChIPs storybook series and Institute workshop presenter, for receiving her doctoral degree in clinical social work from Rutgers University this month!

Her doctorate focused on combining scholarship and practice. Her dissertation was titled, “Disrupted Attachments and the Global Health Implications of Parental Incarceration on the Child.”

The imprisonment of a parental figure has far reaching repercussions, that cannot be predicted, but forever alter a child’s life. Each child’s story and circumstance is different and must be honored, yet, the repercussion in each story begins with the loss of a parent to prison. Working for many years with children and families impacted by parental incarceration I have born witness to and found that losing a parent to prison is not a singular event; rather it is a dynamic process that unfolds throughout one’s lifetime.

If you are interested in learning a little more about the subject, visit Katelen’s website   www.everysinglekid.org.  Click on the “Need to Know” tab where she has posted a few excerpts from her dissertation in an easy-to-read format.

 

 

An Evening of Mentor Development and Fun!

i May 31st No Comments by

Earlier this month, the Safer Society Foundation hosted an evening of professional development and fun for the dedicated mentors of the ChIPs Mentoring & Circles of Support program. Mentors and program staff members broke bread (pizza, actually!) together at the Safer Society headquarters in Brandon, VT.

The evening started off with an interactive balloon activity conducted by the Clinical Director, Dottie Neuberger. This activity, which has participants keep a balloon in the air while solving word problems, can be used as a fun way to connect with a mentee and work on team-building skills (not to mention, you’ll get a good laugh out of it!). The daughter of a staff member was able to participate in the balloon game, which allowed the mentors to observe a child’s reaction to the learned activity. After all, kids are who we are here for!

Shortly afterwards, Program Director Erika Linskey led a brainstorming session to assist in planning summer fun activities for their mentees. Stories were shared about some of the wonderful moments that have happened between mentors and mentees in the program so far. One mentor even spoke about how the relationship with her mentee is completely reciprocal and it has added so much to her own life. Others nodded in agreement.

From Left to Right: Dottie Neuberger, Lauren Ross, Erika Linskey, Ann Poskas, Catherine Chase, Jenn Nixon

The Case for Neurodiversity in Vermont (and beyond) – Vermont Learning-Support Initiative

i Apr 19th No Comments by

The Vermont Learning-Support Initiative (VLSI) provides mentors for another at-risk population, children with learning disabilities.

In this blog post, VLSI  argues that children whose brains are wired differently deserve to be seen as different rather than as defective, as implied by the word “disability.” They propose using the word “neurodiversity,” as a more inclusive, affirming alternative to the prevailing mindset.

 

Some twenty years ago the word “neurodiversity” came into being, a gift from the autism community wanting to create a more inclusive, affirming alternative to the prevailing mindset of “disability.” In the neurodiverse framework, those whose brains are wired differently deserve to be seen as different rather than as defective.

Since that time, the concept has appealed to other groups whose labeling is similarly brain-based, such as those living with ADHD and dyslexia. It’s also been embraced by members of the educational community, most notably in Vermont at Landmark College, which just this year established a Center for Neurodiversity on its Putney campus.

It’s not a concept welcomed by all. Many education and health professionals resist it, preferring the accepted language of disability and deficiency. Disability-rights advocates are wary of its divisive potential. In each case, these are good people doing vital work; however, there are also compelling reasons to make room for the positive possibilities of neurodiversity.

The first reason might be that those sharing the neurotypical, aka “normal,” perspective are not always respectful that there are other perspectives on what is normal. A great many great minds have suffered from the imposition of this overly simplified way of looking at things, with results ranging from the incredibly courageous to the utterly tragic.

Secondly, there’s a huge potential cost to using a disability mindset where specific learning and attention issues are concerned……

Read the entire blog post here: https://www.vermontlearningsupport.org/1/post/2018/04/the-case-for-neurodiversity-in-vermont-and-beyond.html 

We Don’t Need a Mega-Prison in VT. We Need a Mega-Commitment To Keeping People Out Of Prison.

i Feb 19th No Comments by

A Road Map to Reduction

The Barre Times Argus — a well-established Vermont newspaper — has published an opinion piece drafted by Safer Society Executive Director Mary Falcon and board member Michael Shank. In the piece, Falcon and Shank argue that the solution to Vermont’s over-crowded prisons isn’t funding a mega-prison, but working to reduce the prison population.

You can also read the op-ed on The Times Argus website by following the link: A Road Map to Reduction


We don’t need a mega-prison in Vermont. We need a mega-commitment to keeping people out of prison.

When Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille proposed building a new $150 million mega-prison in Vermont with taxpayer money — which CoreCivic (formerly the scandal-ridden Corrections Corporation of America) would build and lease back to the state — he asked, “how do we better take care of all of these populations?” We’ll tell you how. And it won’t cost Vermonters $150 million. It starts with Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan’s call for programs that keep people out of prison in the first place. While the AG’s ask may seem obvious, the state could do more to fully fund it. One of the AG’s recommendations is for more transitional housing, which is a lot cheaper than a mega-prison and essential in helping recently released inmates transition back into society and avoid repeat offending.

We support the AG’s position and would like to expand on how to reduce the population of re-offenders and parole violators. That is, offenders who are released after doing their time only to end up incarcerated a second, third or even fourth time.

What’s driving this recidivism, according to corrections research cited by The New York Times editorial board, is the hair-trigger parole and probation system. While it was originally built to cut costs and deal with minor offenses outside the prison system and reward good behavior and incentivize rehabilitation, it’s now driving recidivism. Rather than equipping the offenders with critical drug treatment or mental health care, they’re being sent back to prison for minor infractions or technical violations.

This isn’t a sustainable practice. According to the Vermont Department of Corrections 2015 Annual Report, more than one-third, or 36 percent, of the Vermont prison population consists of repeat offenders and parole violators. No state can afford this kind of prison population growth, certainly not cash-strapped Vermont. Especially when it’s preventable.

Other options are out there. The Columbia University Justice Lab, for example, recommends a judicial hearing before parole officers can jail people accused of technical violations. They also recommend that we should cap prison and jail terms for minor parole violations and shorten parole terms for people who stay out of trouble for specified periods of time.

This all makes much sense and would be easy to implement. If we follow this example, we could use the savings recovered from a reduction in the prison population to expand education, substance abuse treatment and housing opportunities for parolees who need considerably more help than they’re getting to forge stable lives in their communities.

Instead of taking $150 million from Vermont taxpayers to build a mega-prison that we don’t need, let’s instead fund programs that help Vermonters currently behind bars prepare for the challenges of returning to society and reconnect with their communities and their families. That’s a Vermont taxpaying dollar much better spent with much greater returns to the Vermont economy.

By providing vocational and life skills training, as well as individual treatment and group therapy for drug abusers, sexual offenders and persons with mental illness, we can get Vermonters back on their feet and no longer dependent on the taxpayer paid-for prison system.

Treatment works. We know this. This is what we do as a publisher and worldwide distributor of sexual offender treatment manuals. One of our authors, for example, who conducted a nationwide meta-analysis in 2009 found that sexual offenders who received treatment during their incarceration re-offended at the rate of 10.9 percent. Those who were untreated recidivated at nearly double that rate (19.2 percent). We know, firsthand, that re-entry programs and life-skills training are essential in helping inmates prepare for the roles and responsibilities necessary when returning to the community. And the data show that they’re successful, too.

By helping released prisoners find employment and rebuild their community connections, we also save lives and money. For only $5,000, we can place and retain an ex-offender in a job. That’s a lot less than the over $30,000, on average, to keep someone in prison for a year. If you look at prison-to-work programs in the U.S., recidivism rates for those employed after their release ranged from 3.3 to 8 percent. That’s a significant reduction from the average statewide recidivism rates of 31 to 70 percent.

But there’s more to it than just getting a job. If we want keep people out of prison, it’s going to take a village of volunteers. Circles of support and accountability, or CoSAs, help paroled offenders find homes, get jobs, adhere to the rules of their parole, relearn social skills and form community connections. Professionally supervised, these volunteers meet weekly with the parolee and substantially increase the likelihood of their successful reintegration and rehabilitation.

Vermont’s Department of Corrections has circles of support and accountability programming. Although relatively new, they’re already reducing repeat offenses and parole violations. Of the 21 ex-offenders in the Vermont CoSAs studied by Dr. Kathryn Fox of the University of Vermont in 2013, only one re-offended within a year of release. That puts the CoSA re-offending rate at 0.5 percent as compared with the statewide re-offending rate of 36 percent. Unfortunately, the limited funding provided to this program only allows it to serve a small proportion of the imprisoned population.

As Con Hogan, Vermont’s widely respected and admired former state corrections commissioner and human services secretary, said in his Feb. 1 testimony before the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, “reducing the number of inmates should be our first priority, not building more beds.” We couldn’t agree more. As stated above, the road map to reduction is clear. We know what works. We’ve seen it. Now, it’s up to the state to fund it.