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Joint hearing considers funding to help inmates better connect with family

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said studies have shown closer contact between incarcerated individuals and their families promotes rehabilitation, reduces recidivism, and allows their young children to experience positive nurturing for long-term growth and stability in life.

But it can be costly.

Families sometimes spend up to $300 a month to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones and can be forced into debt doing so, he said. Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) has put forth an idea to help foster meaningful social connections and allow incarcerated parents to be positively engaged with their young children.

HF4191 would create a family support unit within the Department of Corrections focused on providing meaningful connections between incarcerated individuals and their families. The bill would appropriate $1.5 million for the department to provide communications and related services that allow incarcerated people to connect with family and others who are approved using video visits and phone calls and $280,000 for the family support unit. First funded in fiscal year 2023, the appropriations would be ongoing.

It was heard on an informational basis Friday by the House Early Childhood and Finance Policy and House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy committees. It has no Senate companion.

Meant to promote more visiting and parenting programs for incarcerated individuals, the bill is based on last year’s Healthy Start Act that provides incarcerated mothers the opportunity to create strong bonds with their newborn babies.

Medical and education experts, along with law enforcement officials, spoke of the relationships between child development and public safety.

Megan Gunnar, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, explained how early childhood experiences shape the brain. She highlighted the importance of close interactions between a child and parents, and also between a child and teacher, for the child to learn about forming relationships and to develop executive functions.

Positive engagement between incarcerated parents and kids leads to healthy relationships, added Andres Dukes, vice president of Family and Community Impact with Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis.

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