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Continued: Rosenblum: Long overdue, the pressure is on for prison phone justice

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 6, 2014 - 12:50 PM

Most incarcerated parents nationally are placed in facilities more than 100 miles from home, making regular face-to-face contact difficult. And that leads many children into truancy, depression and aggression.

“Children are the silent victims,” said Teri Schmitz, a former social worker who is now a second-year St. Thomas law student. She has spent the past few months working with Tyner’s Community Justice Project, a legal clinic introducing budding lawyers to social justice efforts.

Public defenders, as well as criminal defense and immigration attorneys, are also strained. Many report that they limit the number of collect calls they will accept from indigent clients.

It’s important to remember that most of these clients are getting out of prison at some point. And well-documented studies show that prisoners who remain connected to loved ones on the outside have the best chance of success in work, relationships and staying out of trouble. It behooves us to have pre-established support systems in place for them.

That begins with regular and affordable access to that lifeline called the telephone.

“You just can’t let somebody go through it alone,” said Sue Ellis of St. Charles, Minn., whose son is a client in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. “They need to be able to talk to somebody, to vent.”

“You have to have that connection,” agrees Jason Sole, 35, a felon turned consultant and author now finishing his doctoral dissertation about criminal justice.

Sole’s mother could only accept his collect calls “once in a while.” And he still is pained at not being able to call his brother for his eighth-grade graduation. “People were excited to hear from me at first, but the rates were so excessive that it became, ‘I love you, I can’t wait for you to get out, but we need to start writing,’ ” Sole said.

“But I wanted a connection. I wanted to hear their voices.”

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

612-673-7350

Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum

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