After a bit of a break over the weekend, our group came back together to discuss what we had learned and begin to apply theory. From our meetings with guards, mothers, children, family members, and prison officials, we had plenty of information swimming around in our heads that we were ready to organize. We started with an activity that helped us to synthesize all of our information. Using post-it notes, we wrote down everything we had learned from our research and each of the groups we met with. By the time we had finished, we had filled an entire wall-length white board!
After reviewing this information, we began to identify themes, such as children experiencing confusion and trauma throughout the search process when they visited their mothers, and the difficulty that mothers faced in maintaining strong connections to their children. We then moved all of the post-it notes into categories based on these themes, separating them into two sections: the process leading up to visits and the time spent in the visitation room (seen on the left in the picture below). This process helped us to better pick out consistent ideas as well as contradictions in what we heard from various stakeholders.
Finally, we began our root cause analysis. In this exercise, we looked at each piece of the problem and asked why it existed. For instance, our stakeholders have identified three main reasons that visits are traumatic for the children: their exposure to adults being strip-searched, the fear that comes from going into a prison and being in such a harsh environment, and having to say goodbye at the end of each visit. For each of these reasons, we then asked why it occurs. Children’s exposure to the strip-search process occurs for structural reasons (the set-up of the search area), as well due to policies in the prison (guards not receiving better training on how to shield the children and why it is important, the decision to do invasive searches on the visitors on their way into the visitation rather than the inmates on their way out, etc.). While time-consuming, this process helped us to further identify the main areas we should consider in order to recommend changes that will have the most impact.
Throughout this work and with the input of our peers from other groups, we have begun to identify potential solutions to present to the prison officials in our Community Forum on Thursday. We will spend the rest of this week looking more closely at these recommendations in order to determine the most innovative and feasible responses to this complicated problem.
Written by Julia MacMahon, Boston College School of Social Work