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DOJ seeks proposals for pizza parties, DJs, carnivals for child-friendly prison visits

$1.75 million program to preserve "positive family connections" will fund five projects to start.

Updated: June 26, 2021 - 10:34pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

As part of a $1.75 million grant program to make prisons more child-friendly, the Department of Justice is encouraging applicants to submit proposals for "visitation experiences" like pizza parties, DJs, camping trips and carnivals.

The DOJ's Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance is seeking grant applications for "construction, renovation, or upgrades of child-friendly family visiting spaces in correctional facilities, as well as for revisions of policies and practices to support child-friendly visitation experiences."

The FY2021 Child-Friendly Family Visiting Spaces in Jails and Prisons Programs is initially spending $1.75 million on five projects, but that could be increased.

"Preserving positive family connections can yield positive societal benefits in the form of reduced recidivism, less intergenerational criminal justice system involvement, and promotion of healthy child development," the grant solicitation states. Yet, the "environment of correctional facilities can be intimidating and detrimental to child development." 

A recent DOJ webinar offering guidance to grant applicants discussed a wide array of unconventional options that will be considered for funding — including pizza parties, DJs, and even extending visiting times through camping excursions or several-day carnival events.

"And we invite everyone to be, you know, creative, think outside of the box," said Hilary Cuthrell of the National Institute of Corrections, who led the webinar along with Jessa Wilcox from the Bureau of Justice. "So that could mean anything from finding space in an outdoor area of your facility and creating maybe an outdoor space for children and families to connect or have enhanced family visits, which we typically sort of describe as not just sort of a visit where the family is sort of sitting in a typical visitation space but rather engaging and interacting and having — maybe sharing an activity together.

"So painting the walls, creating sort of like book nooks. We had one site that, you know, put a tremendous amount of sort of like decals and fun activities for kids to utilize and play with as they are visiting their parents. Creating bookshelves, crayons, coloring books, things of that nature. All the way to, like I said, some of these enhanced visitation spaces.

"We've worked with facilities that put on a dance, and created space for, you know, the DJ and a pizza party and things like that. So it's really, you know — you know, we're open ..." 

"Bonding trips" were also discussed, as some children have been away from their parent for a length of time. Cuthrell said "a camping kind of excursion" or a "carnival setting over the course of a couple of days" is something the DOJ would support.

"The goal of this program," according to the program description, "is to assist correctional facilities to construct, renovate, or modify child-friendly family visiting spaces and review, modify, and implement visiting policies, procedures, staffing, training, and implementation plans to support family strengthening and the best interests of child visitors."

The deadline for submissions is July 12. Once the five grants are approved, the practices could be implemented nationwide. The DOJ indicated the program's objectives are to "identify and document innovative and promising practices in order to inform similar efforts across the nation; create family-strengthening cultures in correctional facilities."

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