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Interns Spark Policy Direction for Children of Incarcerated Caregivers

November 8, 2016

The Human Rights Program partnered with a new non-profit, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers (CIC), to provide unique, research-focused internship opportunities to advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Children of Incarcerated Caregivers is a Minneapolis-based non-profit devoted to local, national, and international issues as they pertain to the wellbeing of children with incarcerated parents. On top of this important issue, CIC is devoted to giving students a unique opportunity to do in-depth research, network, and advocate for real policy change.

In summer 2015, the first group of CIC interns, myself included, started summer research focusing on prison nurseries. In fact, at that time, CIC was called the Prison Nursery Project. When a parent becomes incarcerated in the United States, it is customary for the parent to be separated from their child—but this is not the norm internationally. In most of the world, young children typically accompany their mothers to prison. Our summer research uncovered the ways in which this practice can be potentially positive or deleterious for such children. However, as we learned more about prison nurseries, we also realized that perhaps the scope of our research was too narrow for an organization focused on the wellbeing of children. At this point, we expanded our research to look at the consequences of parental incarceration when separation occurs, as well as alternatives beyond prison nurseries. Hence, Prison Nursery Project changed its name to Children of Incarcerated Caregivers.

While much of CIC's work is focused on US-based issues, the organization also recognizes the value of a global perspective. CIC realizes that its dedication to human rights requires us not to remain ethnocentric, for we can learn much about both best and worst practices from looking to other countries. Personally, the experience of working with CIC has been exciting because of this global perspective, as well as the opportunity to work autonomously, with guidance from the diverse and accomplished CIC board. Working with an organization through which I might be able to contribute to real changes in law and policy added even more to the experience. In the end, my cohort of student interns produced two separate reports, one focusing on the domestic issues of parental incarceration and the costs and benefits of existing alternatives. The second took a global approach and looked at prison nurseries around the world.

In the summer of 2016, the second group of CIC interns began their internship with the intention of investigating the quality of visits between children and their incarcerated caregivers throughout the state. Just as my intern cohort did, the second group of interns was able to redirect the focus of their research based on their initial findings when they discovered a more pressing concern—how cumbersome the process of figuring out the logistics of visiting a parent might be. Thus the interns shifted focus, with two interns producing a report which analyzed the current state of visitation information on the websites of Minnesota jails and prisons. True to CIC's commitment to an international perspective, a second set of interns also researched innovative visitation programs in other countries with the hope that they might be able to bring some of the most successful of these approaches into our own prisons.

The CIC internship program provides students with a unique experience getting to do autonomous research, produce reports, network with community leaders, and have a real impact on policy change. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of this partnership.