Pre K and early childhood programs introduced to Muncy’s SCI
MUNCY – A push to ensure early childhood education opportunities at the Muncy State Correctional Institution was made by state officials and introduced to the public during a media conference on February 26.
Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel joined by Department of Human Services
Deputy Secretary, Michelle Figlar and DHS Secretary Ted Dallas stated the importance of providing resources for families and children while incarcerated.
Secretary Wetzel said, “In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 80,000 children with at least one incarcerated parent, and these children, simply because they have at least one parent in prison, are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system at some point in their life.
Currently, Pennsylvania spends more than $2 billion annually-about seven percent of the state budget-to house about 50,000 inmates. Yet, only 30 percent of Pennsylvania children in some of our most needy families are enrolled in high-quality Pre-K programs. We must change this reality to truly stop the growth of our prison system.”
Some valuable resources have been established along with a new welcoming visitors center showcasing colorful artwork and murals designed and painted by one of the female prisoners. Secretary Wetzel unveiled the new center that will serve as a “one-stop shop” where caregivers of the children can access a wealth of information and services.
According to Secretary Figlar, The Child Resource Centers include information about early intervention, Head Start programs, PA Family Centers, PA Pre-K Counts, local child care programs and home visiting programs. “All materials have clear and direct contact numbers, websites, age ranges and eligibility requirements,” she said. “The staff here created a wonderful indoor environment with some great resources for a home visiting program.”
“These are optimal parenting programs,” added Wetzel. “We need to prevent kids from getting into prison in the first place.” Studies show that children who participate in high-quality pre-kindergarten perform better in school, graduate at higher rates and earn more throughout their working lives compared to peers that do not have access to early learning programs.
Budget struggles have been challenging for the Department of Corrections plus, “It is a very challenging situation for a child knowing their parents are in prison,” added Secretary Figlar. “It makes financial sense to make these investments now.”
“Helping moms is a no brainer,” Ted Dallas said. In January 2016, 24 parents and 37 minor children used the new center to celebrate birthdays, hold secular holidays and give special events. For some this is the only playground they will ever know. “Not just one individual goes to prison, families do,” said Shirley Smeal, former Superintendent at the SCI.
Korvanna Price, an incarcerated mother from Philadelphia who has a 7 year old daughter said the new center gives her more of a connection with her child whom she sees every six months when her sister brings her to Muncy. “I have her read to me, tell me about her school and we have lunch together,” she said. Indoor and outdoor games are available, some crafts and over the summer a magician came. There are daily activities, crafts and snacks for the Muncy mothers.
“Being incarcerated doesn’t make you a bad mother,” emphasized Price. “You can have a connection with your child no matter where you are. You can still be a good mother regardless of your circumstances,” added Price who hopes to be released in 3 years. “This center makes me feel more connected with my child.”