Mental Health Awareness & National Prisoner Family Months Together in May 2018
It is no coincidence National Prisoner Family Month is scheduled for the same month as the long established Mental Health Month — MAY! The scheduling is intentional.
For decades criminal justice advocates have implored the public to recognize a very important fact: the vast majority of prisoners not only need mental health intervention, but can and will substantially benefit from mental health intervention.
The outcries have largely gone unnoticed outside of advocates who already support that notion. Therefore it was with near jubilance that members of the InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference Advocacy in Action Coalition Task Force had a “EUREKA MOMENT” during a monthly conference call when Kate Boccia, Founder and Director of the National Incarceration Association made a simple statement about the “Empathy Gap that impairs criminal justice reform!”
EUREKA!!! THE EMPATHY GAP MUST BE CLOSED!
For countless decades those most directly affected by incarceration have implored the public to acknowledge our prison system is failing and, in fact, doing much more harm than good.
Unfortunately, in the desperation to achieve critically needed change the fact that society as a whole cares very little, if at all, about those affected by mass incarceration seems to have been ignored.
It is this very lack of empathy that has remained a roadblock to criminal justice reform! After all, if society has no empathy for prisoners or their loved ones, why would society care about reforming a system they believe only affects those who are incarcerated?
If the EMPATHY GAP has radically impeded criminal justice reform for eons, why aren’t we doing anything to CLOSE the EMPATHY GAP?
Taking This Bull by the Horns!
Almost immediately upon hearing the words “Empathy Gap,” the coalition task force members began seeking the means to “CLOSE THE GAP!”
Taking that bull by the horns, the advocacy team knew it must adopt ideas that will develop the empathy that has been missing–nationwide! It was ultimately decided the best way to build empathy is to stop trying to force the concept of reform on an uncaring public. Instead, we must develop ways to gently educate the public about the real people are being harmed by maintaining a broken criminal justice system, and those “real people” are actually all of us!
NEEDED: Partners and Supporters!
While the task force’s first thought was to seek support from among those already affected by incarceration, personally or professionally (or both), to be most effective the team knew it must reach far “beyond the choir” that already believes reform is desperately needed. Therefore, the team decided to first reach out to a portion of the community that seemed most logically able to understand the dilemma–the mental health community. After all, for decades our prisons have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill!
Identifying May as annual Mental Health Month, the team unanimously agreed to reach out to the mental health community to share that month with the Prison Family.
Getting Support is Not as Easy as It Looks!
While there has been ready acknowledgement that the Empathy Gap is a huge roadblock to reform – and, while this strategy seemed simple and logical to the team, eliciting supporters from both the criminal justice reform advocates & the mental health community has not been an easy task!
Recognizing a critical result of the Empathy Gap is the lack of effective mental health intervention for prisoners and their loved ones, it was hoped mental health providers and advocates would take the opportunity to work together to bring mental health care to the tens of thousands of mentally ill persons incarcerated in our nation’s prisons. It is still hoped this natural pairing will become a reality.
Showcasing one month nationally each year is a positive peaceful approach to improving the quality of life, not only for prisoners and their loved ones, but for our communities, as mentally healthier individuals exit our nation’s prisons and return to mentally healthier families!
There is nothing controversial about this concept, only a genuine desire to break down barriers to improving the quality of life for everyone affected by incarceration.
Participating is Easy!
If you and/or your organization recognize the need to CLOSE THE EMPATHY GAP is crucial to achieving needed criminal justice reforms join forces with others to participate in National Prisoner Family Month in May 2018.
Simply e-mail your intent to participate in the May National Prisoner Family Month to the host organization at firstname.lastname@example.org. In return you will receive an e-booklet with guidelines and ideas for activities that shed a positive light on prisoner families and ways to work together with mental health and criminal justice providers. Report the type and name and date(s) of your activity and the national team will also provide publicity assistance for your events!