US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Calling attention to our nation's incarceration problem--courtesy of Sesame Street

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

When talking about the overwhelming numbers of Americans living behind bars--about 2.2 million, according to the latest federal statistics--it is easy to overlook one of the most vulnerable populations affected by mass incarceration: children.

A 2010 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 2.7 million children have either a mother or father in prison, which can be extremely damaging to a child. There are likely to be feelings of shame, guilt, abandonment--all of which are difficult for a child to process and understand. Enter Sesame Street with a new solution for providing them with some guidance and support.

The classic children's show has introduced a new character, Alex, whose father is in jail. Alex wrestles with all the emotions that real children of incarcerated parents deal with and is designed to help them work through the difficulties of their situation and to show them they are not alone. Alex is part of an online toolkit designed for children, parents, and caregivers as a way of helping the many kids who face this rarely discussed yet extremely difficult situation.

Many Americans believe that those who commit a crime deserve a fitting punishment, and that in many cases, prison is the best and most appropriate means of dealing with those who break the law. But children are innocent victims who often suffer for the crimes their parents have committed, and it is important that they are not forgotten or overlooked. Thanks to Sesame Street, it looks like the issue will get more of the attention it needs.

There are a number of great organizations working in areas of restorative justice, prison reform, and ministry to the incarcerated and their families. But they can always use a little help, and I think many will be happy to count a blue-haired muppet among their allies.