A program that helps children connect with their mothers in a state prison near Portland has run out of funding.
The Department of Corrections will begin phasing out the Family Preservation Project this month. This weekend was the last special visitation day for the twelve moms in the program at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.
“To me, the program meant being a part of my children’s life,” Lanetta Garner said.
Garner gave birth to a daughter while she was incarcerated at Coffee Creek in Wilsonville.
“I didn’t get to see her walk for the first time, or say her first words, or get her first teeth. I didn’t get to see any of that. I didn’t really have any contact with my daughter until she was four years old,” she said.
The FPP program arranged two visits a month in a room stocked with books and art supplies. Garner said it made it possible for her to bond one-on-one with her daughter in way that was difficult to pull off in a prison environment.
“Something that I enjoyed was sitting down and making her a sandwich, and me discussing with her how her day at preschool went,” Garner said.
The families in the program are the subject of a new documentary by local filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. Lindstrom screened an early cut of the film Saturday at Lewis and Clark Law School for an audience that included Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Coffee Creek Superintendent Heidi Steward, and several mothers and children involved in the program.
Of the roughly 30 women who have participated in the Family Preservation Program in the past five years, none have returned to prison.
Garner was released from Coffee Creek and is working and taking college classes. She wrote an online petition urging the state not to end the Family Preservation Project.
The program also provided support groups for both the incarcerated mothers and their children’s caregivers on the outside: grandparents, brothers, uncles, and aunts.
“It’s a great loss for these caregivers. Some of them don’t have any support and don’t want to talk about their children or grandchildren being incarcerated. This was a great place for them to talk about what it feels like,” said Monica Gebeldone, an intern who helped run the caregiver support group.
At the film screening, Steward said budget cuts forced her to end the program, which she views as successful.
Steward said the program cost $300,000 a year and served a dozen women at a time. Participants stayed in the program until they were released from the prison, which meant there were limited opportunities each year to bring in new inmates to participate.
“I have almost 625 people. I want to take those dollars and reinvest them into a service that affects the majority of our population,” Steward said.