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|May 1, 2012
Berkshire Probate & Family Probation "Empowers" Families
Berkshire Probate & Family Court Probation Officer Amy Koenig recognized a pattern among litigants who were incarcerated. When released from jail, they were unable to establish healthy relationships with their children and families as well as find or maintain employment.
Koenig created a five-week program called “Empowering Incarcerated Parents,” a collaborative effort with the Office of Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler to help litigants with these challenges. Koenig offers sessions to inmates at the Berkshire County House of Correction that include education about children's emotional needs and the effects of separation on child behavior and development, finding and maintaining employment, dressing for success, tips on preparing for an appearance in the courtroom, and an overview of child support orders. This program is for fathers who volunteer to participate. Koenig will offer a five-week session specifically for female inmates who are mothers when the men's program ends.
“When I began developing this, I thought the House of Correction would be an ideal place to start. There's a captive audience. They are clean and sober. Therefore, they are better able to absorb this information,” Koenig said.
“This program helps parents who are separated from their families and children build on important parenting and personal skills that they are lacking and that stymie their efforts to care for their children and find gainful employment. The program empowers the inmates, their families, and the community at large by giving the litigants a chance to remake themselves into contributing members of society,” said Berkshire County Acting Chief Daniel Turner.
Sheriff Bowler said the inmates' participation in the program helps them better understand how the Probate and Family Court works as well as assists them in making better choices about their lives and their children's lives.
“This program helps the inmates understand the emotional needs of their children,” Bowler said. “Our whole responsibility is to correct behavior by giving the inmates tools and the resources they need to be productive citizens. They are incarcerated for 2 ½ years or less and then they are going back into the community. It is all about reducing repeat offenders. We are making people more responsible.”
Koenig, a seven-year Probation Officer, said she emphasizes to inmates the importance of being a positive role model to their children, being respectful to the mother of the child or children, understanding the purpose of probation supervision and maintaining employment.
“They don't have to like the other parent but they have to respect them. What I found among this group of parents in dealing with them in the Probate Court is that they lacked the insight of the effect of their behavior and absence on their children,” Koenig said.
She said finding employment also proved to be a major challenge.
“The way some of them presented themselves in an interview was an issue. I had to remind them to shower, shave, dress appropriately and to shake someone's hand,” Koenig said.
The program is in its third week, according to Koenig. She is planning to track the participants and their progress after they are released from the House of Correction.