Sharing Sentences on the Outside

Steve Rempe |

Kate Boccia knows what it’s like to struggle with a loved one behind bars. When her son, Daniel, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for armed robbery, she experienced all the emotional and financial struggles that come with having an incarcerated family member.

“When you have someone you love in prison, you are basically in prison right along with them,” Boccia says in a commentary for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website. She estimates that she has spent nearly $50,000 since her son was arrested on phone calls, visitation, food, clothing, reading materials, and such. In addition, Boccia says she has little desire to “buy that pretty bauble” or to go out to dinner knowing the conditions that her son is currently experiencing.

Boccia quit her full-time job to start the National Incarceration Association, which provides support for families like hers that have a loved one in prison. “Families who are torn apart by mass incarceration have an enormous responsibility to forsake things in order to help their loved ones,” she says. “They also must prepare to support them when they return, because returning citizens are barely able to find work due to the collateral consequences of their conviction.”

Boccia is encouraging those impacted by incarceration to unite to promote policies and policy makers who can make a difference. “The only way we can properly turn the ship around is by using our political clout,” she says. “We need to come together as one community and vote according to the needs of ourselves and our loved ones before, during, and after incarceration.”

There are currently several bills that will help reform the criminal justice system and ease the burden on families like Boccia’s. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act seeks to make sentences more proportionate, and works to improve recidivism rates by increasing in-prison programming and facilitating greater contact between prisoners and their families. The Second Chance Reauathorization Act offers greater reentry programming for men and women leaving prison, and the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act affirms the value and dignity of prisoners suffering from mental illness, and seeks to provide accountability along with the care and support their conditions demand.