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GO KIDS LogoGO KIDS initiative provides intervention services, resources for high-risk children of offenders

portrait of Christina Melton Crain
Christina Melton Crain,
TBCJ Chairman
Today, one in thirty-two adults in the United States is under some form of correctional supervision, to include jails, prisons, probation and parole. This translates into approximately seven million children having a parent under some form of correctional supervision; with two million of them having parents incarcerated in a state or federal prison, or a local jail.

Since 1991, the number of children with parents in prison has increased by more than 50 percent. Because of their parent’s incarceration, many of these children experience the trauma of sudden separation of their sole caregiver and are vulnerable to feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression and even guilt. They are moved from caregiver to caregiver and the behavioral consequences can be severe absent positive intervention and influence.

As an attorney who focuses in large part on the representation of minors, I have personally found that many of the children I represent have at least one parent who has been or is currently under some form of correctional supervision, whether it be probation, incarceration or parole. Many of these minors have also been abused and/or neglected or are showing signs of juvenile delinquency.

With recent findings by the U.S. Department of Justice indicating that children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, a nationwide focus has begun to target services for this high-risk group in order to assist in breaking the cycle.

Cognizant of the vital role all members of a family play in the life of a child, this past fall the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) implemented a new initiative called GO KIDS (Giving Offender’s Kids Incentive and Direction to Succeed). GO KIDS brings to the forefront the importance of preserving family ties and providing positive prevention and intervention services to these high-risk children. Maintained through the TDCJ Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs Division, a link on the agency’s website ( provides a reliable connection to valuable resources and services, not only within the community, but also across Texas and throughout the nation.

GO KIDS touches offenders through programs geared towards strengthening the parent-child relationship, as well as their families and children. For the latter, GO KIDS provides resources that offer basic fundamental elements such as mentoring and encouraging parent/child relationships, as well as support in the areas of health, legal counsel, and employment. Parenting training, stress management training, social and mental health services, home-based interventions, and advocacy with schools are also services that can be obtained. As positive youth development is a key factor in breaking the cycle of incarceration, many of the offered programs are geared toward creating for children a sense of personal safety, a sense of belonging, self-worth and responsibility, as well as support and guidance from caring adults.

For the offenders, GO KIDS focuses on programs that provide effective parenting education and training, as well as offer avenues to facilitate child/parent connections. Within the prison system, these include programs such as “Pappas and Their Children” and “Girl Scouts Behind Bars.” For parolees and probationers, resource information on counseling and social services is available in almost every county of the state.

A link to national resources is also available through GO KIDS, offering contact information for organizations such as Prison Fellowship, the Family and Corrections Network, and the Child Welfare League of America, to name just a few. Just recently, through a cooperative agreement with the U. S. Department of Justice, the Child Welfare League of America, Inc. created the first Federal Resources Center for Children of Prisoners. The resource center’s ultimate goal is to improve the quality of information available about children with incarcerated parents and to develop resources that will help create better outcomes for these children and their families.

GO KIDS is not just a resource to be used by offenders and their families. It can be an invaluable resource tool for TDCJ employees, particularly those working directly with offenders and/or their family members.

With our nation’s incarceration population growing at a rate of 3.8 percent annually, it is incumbent upon us at TDCJ, as the main stakeholder in this arena, to do all we can to assure effectiveness and efficiency in our criminal justice system.

I am very excited about the TDCJ GO KIDS initiative and truly believe that by providing and using the resources available, we can help a child gain hope and direction and ultimately impact the future of our great state and our nation.

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TDCJ’s policy for sexual harassment: Zero Tolerance

line drawing of man touching woman's shoulder as she types on her computerTDCJ’s policy regarding sexual harassment and retaliation fills nearly eight pages. But it can be summed up in just two words: zero tolerance.

The policy – Personnel Directive 13 –reads in part: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a zero tolerance policy for all forms of unlawful gender discrimination, to include sexual harassment. In order to prevent sexual harassment, the agency also prohibits discourteous conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person would find offensive or which is known to be unwelcome to the person against whom it is directed. Agency supervisors and other employees are prohibited from subjecting any employee or other individual to sexual harassment or discourteous conduct of a sexual nature. Retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint is also prohibited.

Unconditional support for the policy starts at the top of the agency.

“I have zero tolerance for illegal discrimination, harassment, retaliation or intimidation,” TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston states in a videotaped message that all employees are required to view. “You are expected to adopt this policy as your own while you are a TDCJ employee. If you want to avoid disciplinary action, keep your actions and your language respectable and professional. No one in this agency, including myself, is so valuable that unacceptable and illegal behavior will be overlooked. Do not bring sexual behavior, talk or attitudes to the workplace, period.”

Sexual harassment can start out as something as simple as a flirtatious wink from a co-worker. But in the blink of an eye, that wink can turn into a sexually suggestive stare that the victim finds both personally and professionally offensive. By policy, the offended employee is obligated to report the behavior so that the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Section can determine if it amounts to sexual harassment. Employees can report such behavior directly to Human Resources Intake during regular workweek business hours at (936) 437- 4240. An intake specialist can be reached by pager on weekends and holidays at (936) 436-5306.

“We want an allegation of discrimination to come to us, and once it does, we look into it and give each case specific attention,” said Larry Myers, director of Employee Relations section of TDCJ’s Human Resources Division. “It is our responsibility to determine whether or not it is a violation of the law or agency policy.”

In fiscal year 2003, 444 complaints alleging discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information were received internally or through an external source such as the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission or the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last fiscal year, TDCJ employees filed 360 such complaints.
Human Resources Division Director Carol Johnston said that approximately 75 percent of the complaints alleging discrimination fall into the sexual harassment category on average.

Whether a co-worker’s behavior amounts to sexual harassment depends in large part on the pervasiveness and frequency of the actions. Policy states that sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when the conduct is sufficiently pervasive or severe that it has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or offense. It goes on to say that an allegation of sexual harassment may be warranted when submission to the offensive conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual reporting the conduct.

A finding of sexual harassment results in a recommendation for termination of a violator’s employment with TDCJ. A lesser finding of discourteous conduct of a sexual nature – a violation of Rule 50 of the Employee General Rules of Conduct and Disciplinary Violations - is a Level 2 offense punishable by sanctions that include reprimand, disciplinary probation, suspension, reduction in pay and/or demotion.

Johnston and Myers said Rule 50 serves to prevent offensive behavior from escalating into sexual harassment.

“It protects the complainant and it could potentially salvage the respondent from being separated from employment,” Johnston said. “And it limits the liability of the agency from future findings of sexual harassment.”

It is also important to remember that behavior considered flirtation by one individual can be a violation of rule 50 if the target of the flirtation finds it offensive.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Myers said about flirting among co-workers. “But you still have human nature in the workplace and you still have to deal with human nature.”

“From my perspective, a flirtation with a subordinate is wrong,” Johnston added. “That can always lead to other behaviors that can end up causing problems in the workplace. It can evolve into harassment.”

TDCJ makes the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment clear to employees from day they are hired. In addition to the executive director’s videotaped message, the policy is included in the information packet all newly hired or rehired employees receive. The policy is published in the Agency Personnel Manuel and is accessible by way of the agency’s mainframe reporting system (Infopac) and web site. Sexual harassment is also a training topic through the Human Resources Staff Development department.

Johnston said employees can always be cordial and friendly with co-workers without being offensive.

“I don’t think being pleasant with a co-worker is flirtation,” she said. “Being professional and respectful to co-workers would be the most prudent way to act on a daily basis. Before you tell a joke, think about that joke. There are a lot of jokes that are not appropriate in the workplace. There’s a lot of people who don’t really think about that until someone confronts them.”

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