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MATCH Program Marks 30 years of Transforming Lives
Date: March 19, 2016 10:05AM

MATCH Program Marks 30 years of Transforming Lives

This year marks 30 years for Bexar County’s (Texas) Mothers and Their Children (MATCH) Program, which works to make things better for kids whose mothers are spending time behind bars. Bexar County was the first in the nation to implement MATCH, a parent-child contact visitation program for incarcerated mothers. Ten years later, Papas and Their Children (PATCH) was created for incarcerated fathers.

The MATCH Program, housed inside the confines of the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, has helped to improve the lives of thousands of incarcerated mothers whose lives have been tainted by criminal activity often prompted by alcohol or drug use. The MATCH program was created to address the trauma of separation that children of incarcerated parents experience when their mother goes to jail.

MATCH’s objective is to expose incarcerated mothers to as much life-changing information as possible. Through structured educational classes, parent-child contact visits and an e-book program, the program seeks to transform the lives of incarcerated mothers so they can become role models their children can emulate.

MATCH provides support to the incarcerated mother while maintaining the mother-child relationship through contact visits. Twice a month MATCH mothers can earn a one-hour contact visit if they attend all required educational classes. Visits occur in a daycare center type room and mother and child are allowed to hug and hold each other during the visit. Mothers are encouraged to allow their children the opportunity to vent their feelings, which can help the child emotionally. These visits have a profound effect on the emotional well-being of both mother and child, and lessen the trauma of separation. In addition to educational classes, the MATCH program also offers curriculum-based certificates for a variety of educational topics such as Domestic Violence, Parenting, Anger Management, Substance Abuse, and 12 Steps.

In the past two years, Bexar County has made some changes in the program to increase its efficacy. MATCH made headlines in March 2014, when the innovative program partnered with the first bookless library in the nation — Bibliotech, which is also in Bexar County. The partnership offers incarcerated mothers the opportunity to learn new life skills by providing them with e-readers preloaded with parenting books.

Another development that has made MATCH more successful is that participants are housed in the same living unit, so they are able to read and discuss parenting books together and encourage one another. This change has had a profound effect upon the program participants, according to Jail Programs Manager Aida Negron, “They needed to support one another because they were all mothers and they were all going through the same program.” Officials believe that placing the MATCH participants in separate quarters removes them from some of the influences of other inmates who will stay in jail longer, or who may have ongoing drug problems or other issues.

“But it’s also accountability,” Negron said. “They don’t know what each other’s doing if they’re separated. So when they come together and they say, ‘Hey, you know, you’re talking like this, you’re saying that you did this, you’re saying you’re being honest but look what you’re doing in the unit.' ”

Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, speaking at the recent celebration marking the 30th year of MATCH, said: “The average age of a child with an incarcerated parent is eight years old and 22% of these children are under the age of three.”

Pamerleau cited a cost-benefit analysis that shows MATCH graduates had a 13.5% lower re-arrest rate than those who dropped out. Pamerleau believes the introduction of e-readers will thrust the program into a higher level of success. "We’re in an electronic world. The interactive e-readers and smart phones; this is a way that a parent can help their children to not fall behind."

Bexar County Jail Administrator/Deputy Chief Raul S. Banasco believes “In society, women offenders face unique challenges as single parents while going through the criminal justice system. That’s why programs like MATCH are important in breaking the cycle with the offenders’ children. The challenges and barriers, such as education, employment, housing, family reunification, self-esteem and parenting skills, are key ingredients that need to be fostered while inmates are participating in jail programs to give these women a positive step up once they are released from the system.”

Former MATCH women have become successful in a number of professions, including counseling. Some have become licensed professional counselors and licensed chemical dependency counselors in the community. Many have resumed their responsibilities as nurturing mothers and grandmothers. Banasco noted, “Most incarcerated mothers function as a single parent, which makes it even more difficult to establish a stable and emotionally nourished parent-child relationship. While these women are in the MATCH program, they have to ensure they are focused on positive programming, while still knowing their parental rights may have been terminated and their children may be in the custody of Child Protective Services. Mothers are the central family figure for children, so that’s why MATCH plants the seed for a productive future for both the mother and her children.”

Negron agrees. “We are purposefully trying to interrupt the cycle of generational incarceration,” she said. “By positively affecting a mother, we affect her children and, subsequently, the family and the community.”

For more information about the MATCH program, contact Rosanne Hughes, Change Management Specialist, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office at: rosanne.hughes@bexarcounty.org.

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