Family Unity Project

Brenda, her mother, and daughter, Dalilah

Incarcerated people are not isolated individuals.  They come from families—they are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They have sisters and brothers. Their incarceration impacts their families. These relationships influence their lives while inside as well as their success upon release. Maintaining strong family relationships during incarceration benefits everyone. The Family Unity Project’s purpose is to maintain and strengthen family relationships during and after incarceration.

LSPC’s Family Unity Project meets with parents in prison who struggle daily to maintain relationships with their families. We talk with children who wish they knew their parents, and we work within communities decimated by incarceration and missing mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.  As a result, we developed the Bill of Rights for Incarcerated Parents, a call to change policies and practices that put punishment over rehabilitation, family separation over reunification.

The best way to keep families together and achieve reunification is to reduce the use of punishment and incarceration as a means of solving social problems.  Mass incarceration has the collateral consequence of separating hundreds of thousands of California’s children from their parents, many of them losing their parents and extended families entirely through adoption.

All of our work is based on the idea that people in prison have a human right to family—to make informed decisions about their children, have contact with them and have a say on who those children live with.

Family Unity Project Activities

The Family Unity Project’s work spans the following programmatic areas:

  • Improve conditions of confinement and custody rights for women who give birth while incarcerated
  • Expand visiting and maintain family bonds
  • Advocate for real alternatives to incarceration and family separation
  • End long-term solitary confinement

Some of the current programs of the Family Unity Project include:

  • Legal Support
    • Solitary Confinement Lawsuit: We are co-counsel in Ashker v. Brown, a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of people incarcerated in long-term solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. The suit challenges California’s torturous solitary confinement conditions and is being litigated with other attorneys including the Center for Constitutional Rights.
    • Prisoner Legal Information Manuals: We have written and actively distribute over twenty manuals of legal information, designed to assist prisoners in advocating for themselves, and also for family members and attorneys; links to our Family Unity Project publications are in the Resource Library. Our Incarcerated Parents Manual is our most requested manual.
  • Advocacy
    • Ban on Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners: In 2005 and 2012 we sponsored successful legislation that now prohibits shackling of pregnant women in California’s prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. Since then, we have worked with local officials and community advocates to raise awareness and implement these laws, including issuing reports on our implementation efforts: read here.
    • Alternative Custody Program: We have advocated for implementation, expansion, and improvement of California’s Alternative Custody Program for incarcerated parents.
    • Prison Spending: We actively participate in Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition of community groups opposing prison expansion and favoring investment in social services.
  • Trainings and Public Education
    • Legal Training and Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Seminars: LSPC is a Support Center, training qualified legal aid service providers and other organizations that provide legal services to low income people, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families. We provide legal education in family law and other areas, including through the Legal Aid Association of California. We also specialize in reentry law and have sponsored annual training conferences.
    • LIFELINES Family Law Classes: LIFELIINES is a family law curriculum designed as a six-week program, delivered inside California jails and prisons. We train incarcerated mothers to advocate for themselves in court in order to maintain their parental rights.
    • California Mother-Infant Prison Programs: We have published our investigations of conditions in our state’s mother-infant prison facilities.
  • Grassroots Mobilization and Developing Community Partnerships
    • Hunger Strike Coalition: We actively support California’s prisoners’ struggles through our participation in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) coalition and the Hunger Strike Mediation Team.
    • San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership: We participate in the SFCIPP, working locally to improve the lives of children of incarcerated parents, and to increase awareness of these children, their needs, and their strengths.
    • Strong Families: With Forward Together, we are a member of the Strong Families coalition, promoting family unity across diverse communities and despite institutional barriers.