Today we presented our ideas for San Joaquin at a community forum. Representatives from all three agencies that our entire group worked with were there to hear what the teams had found in their research and field work. For me, it was great to see what the other two groups had worked on throughout our two weeks in Santiago. One group worked on homelessness, another worked with an organization that wanted to engage youth in park and green space creation. Both teams generated really great ideas to combat these issues in unique and interesting ways.
Our group decided to present our ideas according to three main issues we discovered in our work at the prison:
- Women lack the resources or the will to engage in attachment strengthening relationships with their children.
- The visitation process is traumatizing for the children.
- Strengthening mother-child attachment and the visitation process is a low priority at the prison.
To combat these issues we proposed a number of solutions, categorized based on feasibility from short, medium, to long term interventions. Ideas generated to address the issue of women lacking the resources and will to engage children while in prison were to expand access to phones and create a space for virtual visitation. In the medium term we proposed providing a parenting program for mothers which encompasses a combination of activities geared towards engaging their children during and after the visits, incentivizing good behavior with more private visitation privileges, and teaching them skills and activities to use during the visits. In the long term allowing the women to make and save money to assist in the redesign of the gym, the group visitation area.
To combat the issue of the process being traumatizing for children, we proposed in the short term to make the guidelines for exactly what type of attire and food are allowed into the prison, and placing lockers outside the prison so that people can store their items not allowed in the prison there. In the medium term we suggested providing an orientation for families and children on what to expect when visiting your mother in prison and creating a support group for children outside the prison. In the long term we suggested providing training for guards so that they are able to see how their actions affect children, switching the search process from visitors to mothers after the visitors leave, and obtaining an X-Ray machine so that the strip searches will only be a last resort.
To address the issue of mother child attachment being a low priority at the prison, we suggesting having a support group for mothers in the short term. In the medium and long term we proposed having supervision and staff meetings for the guards, as well as training for the guards and mothers on the importance of attachment and how secure attachments between mothers and children reduce the likelihood of recidivism and mental health and delinquency issues for the child. Another hope is that a social worker can facilitate conversations and collaboration between guards and mothers.
After the presentation we were able to sit down and discuss our proposals with two representatives who have worked at the prison and will continue to carry out our work after we leave. They were pleased and surprised with the depth of our suggestions yet acknowledged how difficult change within the Chilean prison system can be. Although our direct contacts at the prison could not join us for this discussion, we will be submitting a report with in depth details on our ideas in order to begin the discussion.
It was wonderful to see all of the work we have done throughout our time in Chile come together in this presentation. It was somewhat of a relief to have this portion of the project behind us so that we can now focus on the report to submit. It is also great that BC was able to obtain a grant to implement the work we have suggested, so this presentation of our ideas is only the start of change within the prison. Our class concluded after the presentations and we all had an opportunity to say goodbye to the PUC students and instructors. I feel very lucky to have been able to work alongside Javiera and the other students, as they provided and shared crucial insights knowledge, and experiences with us that we would have not otherwise known. Afterwards, everyone went off on their own to explore different sights throughout the city. At night, we went out with all of the PUC students to dinner in Bella Vista and experienced some of the local night life with our new Chilean friends! It was a great way to conclude our work with them.
Written by Elyse Casey Boston College School of Social Work.