State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

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Advocates urge an increase in state funding for mentoring programs

Written by Mary Wilson | Mar 16, 2015 3:50 AM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Bobbyshabangu

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(Harrisburg) -- The state estimates that about 81,000 children have a parent in prison and are therefore at higher risk of a run-in with the law themselves.

Now, advocates are asking lawmakers to marshal state resources to break what experts call the "cycle of incarceration."
Devin Winters sat before of panel of state lawmakers recently to show them what can happen when a kid gets a raw deal.

"My mother was in prison and we didn't communicate often. Growing up, the lack of support from my community made it all too convenient to make the wrong choices," he said. "I made all the wrong choices. And I paid for them."

Winters was sent to prison for robbery and causing bodily injury. When he got out, life was still a struggle.

Then there's his sister, Kayla Bowyer. She had a grandmother who looked out for her.

But most crucial, she said, were the three years she spent with a mentoring program called Amachi Pittsburgh.

"I was able to finish high school and then graduate from Carlow University without any involvement in the criminal justice system," she told lawmakers.

The Corrections Department's Shirley Moore Smeal says mentors can help such children break the cycle of incarceration.

"So if we want to truly continue to impact and make a difference in our society, we must continue to fund programs that optimize opportunity for success for children of incarcerated parents," she said.

Advocates say these kinds of mentorship programs deserve state funding.

A University of Pittsburgh study found the Amachi mentoring program greatly reduced the risk its participants would engage in criminal behavior.

The initiative received federal money until 2011. Now it's bankrolled with private donations and grants.

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