Rally Held for Children of Incarcerated Parents

Dozens of local youths and advocates rallied outside San Francisco City Hall this morning and called on the city to address the needs of young people with incarcerated parents.

The rally was held prior to a hearing by the Board of Supervisors’ neighborhood services and safety committee on possible solutions for gaps in mental health services, education, stability in housing, visiting policies and other issues facing youth with parents in custody.

“It’s time for us to address the needs of the children of the incarcerated,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen.

Cohen cited a 2011 report noting that 2.7 million young people nationwide and 17,933 in San Francisco have parents who are or have been incarcerated.

Cohen said systematic incarceration has a specific negative impact on minorities and on low-income neighborhoods and households.

Several youth members of Project WHAT! (We’re Here and Talking), a group geared toward raising awareness and improving services for young people with incarcerated family members, attended the rally and the hearing.

Many of the teens brought signs like “I am > my parent’s mistakes” and “I have the right to a life-long relationship with my parent.”

Project WHAT! alumnus Tra Westbrooks, 20, said today’s hearing is the direct result of the group’s hard work and dedication. Westbrooks, whose father was incarcerated numerous times, said he joined the group three years ago because it brought him together with other teens in similar situations.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said part of the problem is the country’s high incarceration rate and the justice system’s ignoring of children and families.

“We incarcerate more people per capita than any other country in the world,” Adachi said, adding that two-thirds of people in jail or prison are there for non-violent offences.

“The reality is the system doesn’t care,” he said.

Westbrooks, who is about to start his junior year at University of California at Riverside, said joining Project WHAT! helped him find a voice to speak for young people with incarcerated parents.

“I went out into the world and helped lobby for certain bills and to help fight for the rights we deserve,” he said.

Dennis Culver, Bay City News

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