Calling for reform, President Obama notes the impact of incarceration on families

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By Melinda Clemmons

From a cellblock at El Reno Federal Penitentiary in Oklahoma on July 16, President Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, spoke of his hope that his proposed criminal justice reforms will, among other positive outcomes, “perhaps most importantly, keep families intact.”

His historic visit to El Reno capped a week in which the president sought to “shine a spotlight” on the U.S. criminal justice system, which he said in a speech July 14 at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia is “particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation.”

The day before his appearance at the NAACP convention, Obama granted clemency to 46 inmates, most of whom were incarcerated for non-violent offenses under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In his speech in Philadelphia, the president said the mandatory sentencing laws for non-violent offenses are in large part responsible for the quadrupling of the number of people behind bars in the U.S. since 1980. He is proposing those mandatory minimum sentences be reduced or eliminated, allowing judges to use discretion in sentencing.

Obama noted that while the U.S. spends $80 billion every year to incarcerate 2.2 million people, there are also “costs that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.”

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Safeguarding children of arrested parents in Alameda, CA

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By Melinda Clemmons, Chronicle of Social Change

Excited to be home from school, five-year-old Luna Garcia was playing with her little brothers in the front room of her apartment, her grandmother in another room, when she heard a hard knock on the door.

“I wasn’t allowed to answer the door because who lets a little kid answer the door?” she said to a crowd of nearly 100 law enforcement professionals, child welfare workers, advocates, and others last month in Oakland, CA.

Tears welled up in her eyes as Garcia, now 16, recalled how she and her brothers stood and watched as police officers broke down the door of their apartment, ran to her bedroom and then her brothers’, turning over their beds, breaking them in the process.

They were looking for her dad, Garcia told the group, gathered on May 18 for the fourth annual convening of the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP).

Not finding her father, the officers left. Police officers would again break down the door of her apartment in search of her father while she was home three more times over the next eight years.

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In “Childhood Disrupted”, Donna Jackson Nakazawa explains how your biography becomes your biology…and that you really can heal

childhood-disruptedcovIf you want to know why you’ve been married three – or more — times. Or why you just can’t stop smoking. Or why the ability to control your drinking is slipping away from you. Or why you have so many physical problems that doctors just can’t seem to help you with. Or why you feel as if there’s no joy in your life even though you’re

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It’s time to support trauma-informed schools in Pennsylvania

APACapitolThe Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) of Pennsylvania has led us all,  in Pennsylvania and beyond, to a tipping point for educational equity – if the legislature endorses the BEHC detailed “fair funding” recommendations.

There’s no doubt that the task of the commission was daunting. Education funding concerns are very weighty and very high profile in Pennsylvania. House Bill 1738 set up the BEFC and tasked it to “develop a basic education funding formula and identify factors that may be used to determine the distribution of basic education funding among the school districts …”

The BEFC recommended factors required for fair funding.  Eight are included in a proposed formula and eight are recommended for consideration by the full General Assembly.

Can School Heal Children in Pain? Yes, it Can!

ApaperJames Redford, director of Paper Tigers, a documentary about the journey of students and teachers at a trauma-sensitive alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington, posed a provocative question in a recent blog: can school heal children in pain?

I believe that it can.

While trauma-sensitive schools can’t erase every source of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), considering how many hours of their lives children spend in school, educators can do much to mitigate the effects of traumatic stress, and help students to build skills for resilience and well-being. At the very least, schools can refrain from further traumatizing children.

Children with disabilities and behavioral problems, in particular children of color, are regularly subjected to practices such as seclusion and restraint in school. The data conclusively prove that “zero tolerance policies” driving the school to prison pipeline disproportionately affect students of color

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From abuse to adoption: Three sisters share their stories

AhappyMy girls were removed from their biological family due to longstanding neglect and significant physical and sexual abuse. They are now 7, 8, and 10 years old and each of them has an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) score of 10 (out of 10). (Got Your ACE Score?) This is the only test they have all aced. Many labeled them “damaged beyond repair”.

Over the last two years, my family has spent countless hours in individual and family therapy making sense of our own stories, learning how to cope with them, and building the strength required to share our stories outside of our family. And in understanding, embracing, and sharing their stories, our girls are proving that it is possible to overcome the negative effects of a traumatic childhood. Strengthening

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Can School Heal Children in Pain?

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After learning about the overwhelming effects of childhood trauma, I decided to make a film about a school that’s adopted a “trauma-informed” lens.

Documentaries are no walk in the park. They take a lot of time and money; they have a way of making a mockery out of your narrative plans. They must share the attention of an audience that is increasingly losing more and more of it.

Why bother? It’s a good question. For me, I have one simple bar that all my films must clear: an “oh my God!” moment. If a story does not elicit that reaction from deep within my bones, I don’t do it. I count on that sense of awe, concern, wonder, and alarm to carry me through the long haul of making the film. To do otherwise, well — it just seems stupid.

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