At the Tulare County jails, inmates may be videotaped reading a children’s book and that recording is mailed home to their children along with the book as a way to keep incarcerated parents connected to their children.
The program, Mother Read, is very popular with inmates, many of whom have never read a book to their children, Sheriff Boudreaux said.
“The books and video recordings connect them to their children on a whole new level,” he said.
The Mother Read pilot program began in June of 2016 and later expanded to include male inmates. It has been very successful thanks to collaboration with the Tulare County Library and funding for books from the United Way. Mother/Father Read is one of several inmate programs paid for with AB109 funding.
While similar programs exist in other jails, Mother/Father Read is believed to be the first in the state to video record inmates, a step beyond a simple audio recording.
Inmates with children or grandchildren 8 years old or younger may sign up for the Mother/Father Read Program. Deputies make sure their children and the children’s guardians are receptive to the program. Once permission is given, inmates practice reading to their children with literacy specialists from the Tulare County Library, including Kim Torrez, family programs manager.
“The program helps children know that they are not forgotten about and the parents feel that they are still an active part of their child’s life,” she said.
A video is recorded of the parent reading the book and the recording is mailed to the child along with the new book.
Torrez works with inmates alongside Dep. Jose Renteria inside the jails.
“Dep. Renteria goes 110 percent to make sure every recording is good and every participant feels good about themselves,” she said.
When parents are in custody, children can feel left out, said Susanna Reyes, inmate programs manager.
“Mother/Father Read helps increase communication between inmates and children,” she said. “It’s a way for children to see their parents are improving.”
Deputies review the videos and Reyes gives final approval before they are mailed to the children. After participating in the program, the inmates seem more open because they try harder for their children, she said.
“When you see the inmates reading a book, all the hard exterior walls go down,” Reyes said. “They know they need to make sure they don’t end up back in jail after they’re released from custody.”
So far, more than 110 inmates in the Sheriff’s Residential Substance Use Treatment program have participated in the Mother/Father Read Program since its inception. Currently, seven women and 10 men are on a waiting list.
In the future, Mother/Father Read will expand to other units and detention facilities, including the South County Detention Facility in Porterville once it opens, Reyes said.