ROCKVILLE — For inmates and their children visiting in Montgomery County’s Pre-Release Center, the stark environment didn’t promote a comfortable way to visit loved ones.
Kate Bouwkamp who serves as program coordinator of Rockville’s Community Services Division, felt that the hard tile floors and metal walls of the Pre-Release Center did not promote a healthy bonding environment for inmates and their children and suggested redoing the visitation rooms.
The Pre-Release Center is a county-run correctional facility, Elijah Wheeler explained. He serves as the deputy executive director of the Montgomery County Collaboration Council. The facility provides transitional services for incarcerated adults who are eligible to live in a monitored community setting.
The collaboration council, created in 1992, aims to bring together public and private service providers to address the needs of Montgomery County’s youth and their families. The council describes itself as a quasi-public non-profit organization.
Wheeler said that individuals who live in the Pre-Release Center are part of a work-release program that requires that they have meaningful employment to pay for their room and board until they reach their full release into the community within six months.
The center has shown that it is effective at reducing recidivism rates among participants and improving the odds of a successful reentry into the general community, according to Wheeler.
But, as in many meeting spaces for incarcerated individuals, physical touch is limited in the facility, according to the department of correction and rehabilitation. Visitors also must be scanned by a metal detector, and bags have to be searched prior to entry — all of which can be frightening to younger children.
Bouwkamp describes the space as “not developmentally appropriate or friendly.”
Wheeler said that the collaboration council and its youth services bureaus have been working toward Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s goal of mitigating the effect of incarceration on families.
“We felt it was important to work with the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center to create a space where parents can interact with their children in a manner that helps to foster the relationship between parent and child,” Wheeler said. “Strong family ties are important in preventing recidivism. Often, family members are an inmate’s most important support system.”
Wheeler explained that over the past fiscal year the collaboration council and the city of Rockville discussed how they could use their funding to make a positive impact on residents serving time and on their families. Given her work within the Pre-Release Center, Bouwkamp proposed the idea for a child-friendly space, Wheeler said.
The early planning stages of for the project, given the limited allocated funds, began in November 2018.
According to the county, Bouwkamp spends about half of the year in the Pre-Release Center teaching parenting classes to inmates scheduled for release as part of the ACT- Raising Safe Kids program.
ACT is a program developed in 2001 by the violence prevention office of the American Psychological Association.
“Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as maltreatment, can have serious and long-standing impacts on brain development, emotional, cognitive, behavioral development and on health,” the APA writes.
The organization explained that ACT teaches positive methods of parenting and early intervention.
Wheeler noted that the collaboration council and the city of Rockville have been partners for many years, so the council turned to the city to partner on this project as well.
Funding came from Governor’s Office for Children, which was created in 1978. Today, one of Gov. Hogan’s top priorities is reducing the impact of parental incarceration on children, families and communities.
Through the office for children’s work, the city was given funding to create a warmer visiting space. With the money, the office is working on creating two more comfortable visiting spaces. One will be placed in the women’s wing of the facility and the other in the general visitation area.
According to the county, the new spaces will feature games and books along with interactive wall- mounted features. The new features will help facilitate quality family time for inmates and their children.
“Since play can be an important component in the development of the bond between parents and children, we felt that having a warm, more developmentally appropriate space could help further mitigate some of the negative impacts of parental incarceration,” Wheeler said.
The two kid-friendly visiting rooms are scheduled to be completed in June.