Recently, The Seattle Public Library partnered with King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) to help incarcerated parents connect with their children. The program, called Read to Me!, was started by two librarians and allows inmates to record themselves reading a story, then delivers the recording and the book to the inmate’s child along with a special note.
According to Prison Fellowship, “In America, 2.7 million children (one in 28) currently have a parent behind bars. (Western) Today more than 5 million children (7% of all U.S. children) have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives.”
These numbers are believed to be a low estimate based on the stigma that surrounds having a parent in prison. Being without a parent for any reason can have lasting psychological effects on children. Programs like Read to Me! hope to help the children of the incarcerated while their parents are away from them.
Read to Me! is just one of several programs throughout the country that utilize reading to help incarcerated parents and children bond. Georgia-based Heart Bound Ministries has a Little Readers program that provides literacy carts filled with children’s books to inmates during their visitation, providing them an opportunity to read with their kids. In addition, Heart Bound also enables inmates to record DVDs of themselves reading a book to their children. The organization even allows inmates to change into regular clothes, so they’re not recorded in their prison uniform since many children are unaware that their parent is in prison.
Andrea Shelton, president of Heart Bound Ministries, believes this work is both necessary and powerful, telling USA Today, “We could be changing outcomes here. We could be changing the direction of a child’s future because they sat on their parent’s lap when they were little in a visitation room, and they read.”
It’s the hope of Shelton and many others like her throughout the country that literacy programs for children of inmates will become standard operating procedure.