Summer camp is a ritual for millions of children every year. And camps with special programs are sprouting up all over. Whether it’s the old-fashioned bunk-beds –and-diving –hole type, a camps for children with special needs, or the more innovative models such as the Space Camp in Florida, summer camp has been a part of growing up for generations of children.
Today a new genre of summer camping programs has developed. Addressing the needs of children with incarcerated parents, these camps allow children to be surrounded by other children who share a similar family situation.
An Osborne Association report (Reentry Central July 22, 2011) on children with incarcerated parents tells us :
54% percent of incarcerated men and women are parents with minor children (ages 0-17), including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers
More than 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent who is incarcerated—1 in every 28 children (more than 3.6%) have an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses
One in 9 African American children (11.4%), one in 28 Hispanic children (3.5%), and one in 57 white children (1.8%) in the United States have an incarcerated parent
4% of women in state prison, 3% of women in federal prison, and about 5% of women in jail nationwide reported being pregnant at the time of their incarceration
In 2004, approximately 59% of parents in a state correctional facility and 45% of parents in a federal correctional facility reported never having had a personal visit from their children< i>
Sadly, from the report, A Call to Action: Safeguarding New York’s Children of Incarcerated Parents, we learn that when a parent of the children surveyed was arrested:
67% were handcuffed in front of their children 27% reported weapons drawn in front of their children
4.3% reported a physical struggle, and 3.2% reported the use of pepper spray
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New types of summer camp have evolved for children with incarcerated parents. Some camps are partially inside of a prison. For example, Washington D.C.’s Hope House sponsors “Summer Camp Behind Bars,” a program that was featured in Reentry Central on August 30, 2010, an excerpt relates:
The camp at Long Branch saw fathers and children laughing, doing craft projects, painting their vision of a future united outside of the walls, and even dancing together in the gym. For five days during that week in July fathers got to play with their children, and to provide counsel. One of the reasons Hope House began this program was so fathers could mentor their children and keep them from following in their footsteps.
After eating lunch together, the fathers go back to their cells and the children are taken by Hope House counselors to an off-site camping ground where they continue the camping experience and sleep overnight. Although enjoyable, most of the children look forward to the next morning, and time with their dads.
The Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation (BIMEC) located in New Haven, Connecticut created its own program for children who have a close family member behind bars. The program focuses on providing a welcoming atmosphere that allows children to speak freely with each other of their hopes, fears, and disappointments, while providing them with fun filled learning activities.