Monday, May 12, 2008 — A groundbreaking program that allows female inmates, charged with non-violent crimes, contact visits with their children while incarcerated had made its debut at the Cook County Jail, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.
A “Bright Space” visiting area, which allows inmate mothers to spend time with their children in a warm, living room-type setting, was created at the Jail as part of an effort to help women transition back into the community and not only become productive citizens, but also better parents as well. The space, the first of its kind in a jail setting in the nation, was funded by the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children.
“For so long, inmate mothers have sat behind a thick pane of glass while visiting with their children, making it difficult for them to stay connected,” Sheriff Dart said. “This space not only helps to strengthen the bond between mother and child, it helps the mother see what’s important and focus on making changes toward a productive future.”
Female inmates chosen to use the Bright Space are part of the Jail’s Department of Women’s Justice Services, which provides an integrated model of treatment to address substance abuse as well as mental and physical health issues of women. These women are charged with non-violent crimes, are awaiting trial and have been unable to post bond.
Women’s Justice Services is also designed to help the women assimilate back into society through a variety of programs once their criminal case, for which they are being held, is complete.
The space was provided by the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, the non-profit organization of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading provider of employer-sponsored child care.
The space at Cook County Jail is painted a warm olive color and is designed so four families at a time can meet in their own “living room-like” space with carpeting, couches, rocking chairs, bookshelves and tables filled with appropriate activities to do together. This Bright Space was designed specifically for incarcerated women and their children by early education professionals from local Bright Horizons centers who volunteered their time and expertise in developing spaces in which children can thrive.
“We are inspired and energized by this partnership with Cook County to provide the nation’s first Bright Space in a jail where children can reunite with their mothers to play, learn and find comfort in each other,” said Mary Ann Tocio, President and Chief Operating Officer of Bright Horizons Family Solutions. “This partnership ensures that these children in distress have the simple opportunity that millions of others do, and that is to connect with their mothers, which is so critical to their healthy development and ability to thrive.”
During the press conference, two inmate mothers had the opportunity to visit with their young children, enjoying a belated, yet meaningful Mother’s Day celebration.
Sheriff Dart congratulated the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, the Department of Women’s Justice Services and Lutheran Social Services for working together to create an environment to foster the natural mother – child relationships of female inmates.