SF Sheriff launches new program to help teens visit jailed parents 

Up until now, kids couldn’t visit their parents in jail alone.

But children as young as 16 are now able to see their jailed mother, father or guardian on their own at County Jail under a new program from the sheriff’s department.

“We think that it’s time that the U.S. criminal justice system quits, stops punishing the children of incarcerated parents or guardians,” said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi at a press conference Monday.

San Francisco is the first California county to institute a lowered visiting age, Mirkarimi said. The sheriff’s department’s goal is to reduce recidivism, or the rate at which inmates return to jail, by reconnecting inmates with their families so that they make an easier transition back into their communities upon release.

Before the visiting age was lowered from 18 to 16 years old, the department surveyed most of its jail population and found that more than 1,100 children have parents in The City’s jail. Furthermore, the survey revealed that only 34 percent of the kids were visiting their parents.

In an effort to ease the visitation process and reduce the trauma of having a parent locked up, the department also made new spaces for children to touch, play and talk with their parents in jail and a new inmate locator.

“I would Google my dad’s name not knowing where he was, what he looked like,” 15-year-old Leila Sotto said at the press conference in support of the new program. Her father has been incarcerated since she was four.

“I was slowly realizing that he was starting to turn into a stranger,” she said.

Jana Quan, also 15, said it was “very devastating” to find out both her parents were incarcerated, but that the new online inmate locator would make it easier for kids to find loved ones in the County Jail system.

The new policies follow last year’s changes, which extended visiting hours and reduced phone expenses for inmates and their families.

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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