Oregon is cutting an effective program to help mothers in prison stay close to their kids.
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December 10th, 2014 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories
In 2008, Eva Guzman arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, to begin a sentence for robbery. Eleven days later, she gave birth.
“I had my daughter,” says Guzman, now 33. “And then she was gone.”
Guzman was already the mother of two children, 3 and 6. In that way, she was not unique; two-thirds of female prisoners in the United States are mothers, according to the Women’s Prison Association in New York.
But Guzman’s story behind bars has an unusual ending. When Oregon prison officials released her in August 2013, she had developed stronger bonds with her children, thanks to an intensive rehabilitation program at Coffee Creek, called the Family Preservation Project.
The 4-year-old program encourages and helps women to stay in touch with their children, engage in their lives even while in prison, and learn parenting skills many of the women lack.
“If I didn’t have the program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Guzman, who now works as a technician at a residential treatment center in Seaside.
A study published in June by Portland Community College called the Family Preservation Project “a laudable and effective approach” and called on the state to keep the program going.
Now prison officials are cutting the program.
Kim Brockamp, assistant director of the offender management and rehabilitation unit at theOregon Department of Corrections, says the state agency faces a $37 million shortfall in its current budget, and the program is too expensive for the number of prisoners it serves.
Advocates for the program say the decision to cut it is shortsighted; it should be expanded rather than axed.
“Women need to keep their bonds with their kids,” says Jammie Sherriff, a 2011 graduate of the program. “I wish the program could be open to more women.”
At first blush, the program looks pricey: $300,000 a year for 2½ staff positions, supplies and other expenses. It currently serves just 11 women, 17 children and 22 caregivers—often family members looking after the inmates’ children. The program has graduated another 23 women, none of whom have returned to prison.
Compared with the Corrections Department’s total two-year budget, however—$1.4 billion and 4,500 employees—the program is tiny.
Still, Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters asked her agency to cut spending. The program was one of the most expensive per inmate. “It’s just not good fiduciary responsibility to continue this program,” Brockamp says.
State Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) says Corrections is cutting the program without offering any alternatives. She’s meeting with prison officials next week to find a possible solution.
“Right now, it’s this or nothing, and nothing is unacceptable,” Williamson says.
The Family Preservation Project grew out of an Oregon Department of Education program started at Coffee Creek in 2003. Corrections later took it over.
Guzman was arrested at age 27 for a crime she committed at 16. Police said she had served as a lookout during a robbery that resulted in a 37-year-old man’s death.
Some aspects of the program—the workshops, the parenting classes, the group sessions—almost turned her off. Guzman says she was “a really hard case” because she lacked coping mechanisms, and she recalls she nearly quit.
“‘I’m done with this thing,’” she says she told the group during a particularly tough session. “I walked down the hall, and I was crying. I looked back, and I saw they were all smiling. I said, ‘Can I come back in?’”
The program allowed Guzman regular visits with her kids, kept her in contact with their teachers by phone, and helped ease the stress on her children’s caregivers. That’s what drew Guzman to the program—the promise of relationships with her children.
“I just wanted to see my kids,” she says.
Documentary filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, who directed Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, has been filming the Family Preservation Project since April for a film tentatively titled Mothering Inside. He says the project helps women understand how they came to be in prison, and how to break the cycles of poverty, addiction and incarceration that could ensnare their children.
“This program is deep and it transforms the lives of not only the women but their families,” Lindstrom says. “I truly believe that if this program were expanded, it would significantly reduce recidivism, and shouldn’t that be the goal?”
Emma Moore-Montgomery, 31, went to prison in 2007 for criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence, crashing the car she was driving and killing her passenger, the father of her 3-year-old son. She was released three years ago after serving nearly a four-year sentence.
The Family Preservation Project helped Moore-Montgomery maintain a relationship with her son and work through the pain she had caused the mother of the man she killed.
“Coming home would have been hard, because [my son] wouldn’t have had even a partial mother figure,” Moore-Montgomery says. “That program helped us still be mothers as much as we could.”
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Working, But Still Poor
by Tyler Mac Innis
A View of the State of Working Oregon
Work is not a sure path out of poverty. The official poverty line, based on a formula developed in the early 1960s, underestimates what it takes to make ends meet today. But even with the bar set too low by an outdated calculation, some employers pay too little to lift many working Oregon families above the poverty line.
Lawmakers can enact policies that will lift low-wage workers out of poverty and help them get ahead. Lawmakers should increase Oregon’s minimum wage and enact rules that better protect workers from dishonest employers who steal wages. They should also better fund services that help low-paid working families succeed, such as child care subsidies and job training for workers with dependent children.
Families living in poverty often confront barriers to employment, such as physical or mental health problems, children’s health issues, domestic violence and lack of affordable child care.
Nonetheless, most families with children living in poverty in Oregon are working families. In other words, a poor child in Oregon likely has a working parent.
In 2013, among Oregon’s poor families, more than seven out of 10 (72 percent) had at least one parent who worked.
In total numbers, there were nearly 72,000 Oregonians living in poverty despite belonging to a household with at least one full-time worker in 2013.
To put that in perspective, that is close to the entire the population of Medford (76,000), Oregon’s eighth largest city.
Having a full-time working parent does not prevent children from growing up in poverty.
In 2013, among Oregon children living in poverty, two out of seven (28.8 percent) lived in a home in which at least one parent worked full time.
Rates of poverty among working families are particularly high among Asian and Latino families.
In 2013, nearly nine out of 10 Asian families (86.8 percent) and Latino families (86.4 percent) living in poverty had at least one parent working at some point during the previous year. By comparison, the figure was about seven out of 10 (70.4 percent) for non-Hispanic white families.
The rates of poverty among working families for other communities of color were not statistically different from the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
Single working mothers are more likely to live in poverty than single working fathers in Oregon.
In 2013, 31.9 percent of single working mothers lived below the poverty line, compared to 18.1 percent of single working fathers. For those working full time, 13.1 percent of single mothers and 3.3 percent of single fathers lived in poverty.
Women tend to earn less than their male counterparts and are more likely to work in low-wage jobs.
Lawmakers Must Help Ensure that Work Pays for Poor Families
To reduce poverty in Oregon, lawmakers must help make work pay for poor working families — which are the majority of the state’s poor families.
First and foremost, lawmakers should ensure employers pay a decent wage. In part, this means increasing the state’s minimum wage. Oregon’s minimum wage is not high enough to lift a full-time worker raising two children out of poverty. Workers deserve a substantial increase in the minimum wage, one that lifts families out of poverty.
Lawmakers also ought to enact strong protections against wage theft. A minimum wage counts for little when dishonest employers cheat workers out of the wages they have earned. Too often employers commit wage theft by forcing workers to work off the clock, stealing tips or not paying their workers at all. Lawmakers need to put in place new rules making it harder for dishonest employers to engage in wage theft and easier for the state and workers to enforce wage laws.
Lawmakers should increase funding for services that help poor working families succeed on the job. For example, the Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program, which subsidizes child care for low-income working families, is so poorly funded that eligible parents are often put on a waiting list and are unable to secure child care. Employment training programs such as the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, a program for very poor families with dependent children, currently serves a fraction of those who could benefit because of funding constraints.
Oregon lawmakers can act to make work pay and ensure working families are not poor despite their work efforts.
 For a discussion of barriers to employment see Heidi Goldberg, Improving TANF Program Outcomes for Families With Barriers to Employment,Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 22, 2002.
 This analysis uses 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Micro Sample (PUMS) microdata. The analysis focused on Oregon households living in poverty with a related child. The ACS categorizes work experience as “full time in the past 12 months,” “less than full time work in the past 12 months,” and “did not work in the past 12 months.” Less than full time includes short-term and seasonal work. For example, a person who worked 40 hours per week for 10 weeks during the winter holiday season in a retail position would be considered to have worked less than full time by the ACS. This analysis looks at the share of households in poverty with children where at least the head of household or the head’s spouse had some work experience in the 12 months prior to the survey response. While a person who worked “less than full time” could also be considered long-term unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which defines long-term unemployment as joblessness for 27 weeks or more and actively looking for work during that time, that person is still correctly counted by the ACS as having worked less than full time during the past year. Similarly, a person who “did not work in the past 12 months” under the ACS survey might not be considered “long term unemployed” under the BLS survey if the person was not actively seeking work. One is a survey of who has been working and one is a survey of who has been unemployed; they are not meant to be mutually exclusive. Unless otherwise noted, all data in this fact sheet comes from OCPP analysis of American Community Survey data.
 For more on the gender pay gap, see Jane Farrell and Sarah Jane Glynn, What Causes the Gender Wage Gap? Center for American Progress, April 19, 2013, and Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women Gone as Far as They Can?, Academy of Management Perspectives, February 2007, pp. 7-23.
 For more on wage theft, see: Oregon’s Wage Theft Problem Persists, Oregon Center for Public Policy, January 14, 2013.
Posted in Minimum Wage, Poverty, Role of Government, TANF, Wages.
More about: erdc, race and ethnicity, wage theft, working poor
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