The 5th Annual National Prisoner’s Family Conference kicked off Wednesday morning in Houston, TX, and a few Washington, DC area residents who advocate for those incarcerated and returning citizens are attending.
This year, the conference will last three days and will give secular and faith based organizations an opportunity to focus on the numerous areas concerning the incarcerated community; specifically - the reunification of returning citizens to their families and communities. The goal and mission of the conference is to strengthen the prison family and promote successful reentry and reunification, ultimately reducing the recidivism rate in the country.
Conference organizers hope to achieve this by providing 21 different workshops and a bevy of notable presenters.
DC resident Nathan Hawkins strongly cannot attend the conference, but feel it is very necessary.
"Man, I gotta say that when think about almost 70% of those incarcerated will go back to prison within 3 years after being released, only shows that more attention needs to be paid to what's going on here," he said.
Keynote presentations include Deputy Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Oscar Mendoza will deliver a keynote presentation, where he will cover the importance of the family to the successful community reentry of the prisoner.
Co-director of Justice for Families Grace Bauer will lead a talk at the conference too. Bauer will speak on the critical need for improvement in the treatment of juvenile offenders. Justice for Families is a nationally known and Baltimore-based juvenile justice organization. Donna Doolin-Larsen, a formerly incarcerated woman, will also be on hand to share her experience of being behind bars for 18 years before being released because the State of California discovered they've convicted the wrong person.
According to the National Innocence Project, presently, the United States has over 2.5 million people embedded in it's prisons and at least five percent of that population are possibly innocent of the crimes they've been sentenced to serve. Over 800 inmates have been exonerated through new DNA evidence.
For that 2.5 million, there is at least one person left behind: a mother, father, son, daughter, close friend - or someone that depended on them for something. And there have been countless millions of US citizens who's lives were changed by being incarcerated. The National Prisoners' Family Conference's website states:
National statistics indicate almost 2 million minor children have an incarcerated parent, and over 50% of those are under age 10. There is strong indication that as much as 70% of children with an incarcerated parent are likely to become incarcerated in the future.
"What some people forget," said southeast DC resident Mary Smalls, "is that almost all of these people that get sent to prison have a release date that is attainable within their lifetime. We as Americans...no...we as DC residents have to decide how do we want these people to come back as...mad and angry with no skills, or someone with skills they can use in whatever workforce they decide to go into."
Incarceration is a problem around the world; as noted by Francis Ssuubi from Kampala, Uganda, Director of Wells of Hope Ministries, who will give a presentation - along with Lotta Pettersson, University of Stockholm Department of Criminology.
"I hope attendees leave the conference with an increased awareness of the dire situation we are in, and are better educated with ways to promote positive relationships geared at reducing the number of people in prison," says LaThressa Graydon, a DC resident and returning citizen who's been out of prison for over a dozen years.
From the conference's website:
NEW! Prisoner’s Family & Friends United at www.pffunited.org an on-line extenstion of the Prisoner’s Family Conference.
Moving the conference from solely an education, information and support forum, in 2012 two evenings of the conference were devoted to Advocacy on behalf of the prison family and the First-ever Prison Family Bill of Rights was drafted. Subsequently an on-line extension of the conference was developed with the launching of the Prisoner’s Family & Friends United website (www.pffunited.org). This partnership website offers on-line information; practical services and advocacy on behalf of prisoners and their families.