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Racing to Keep Children Out of Prison

Sibil Fox Richardson ran her first marathon in New Orleans on Sunday, February 13. However, Richardson had a far more important message to deliver during her run: As the world leader in incarceration, Louisiana isn't just locking up its adults. The state is now setting the course for the prisoners' children to eventually be locked up, too, she says.

Richardson, who used the shorthand Fox Rich when she hosted a radio show on KOKA in Shreveport, was appointed in 2005 by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to the state's Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Board. But her burning passion to keep children from growing up to enter prison isn't just a statewide public-service concern. It's personal. Richardson spent time in prison for included a bank robbery attempt to get the money she and her husband needed to start a clothing store.

She was released after serving half of a seven-year sentence. Her husband remains at Angola for that crime. The couple had five sons together. It's her goal to keep their boys out of jail. Not just them but the children of other prisoners, too.

"Children who have an incarcerated parent are seven times more likely to wind up in prison," she says. Therefore, her plan is to run seven marathons, attract sponsors and use those donations to fund college scholarships for young people whose parents are locked up. Her initial goal is to raise $100,000 to cover the first year of tuition for five students. She has a bigger goal down the road to help more students.

Successfully completing the marathons won't be half as impressive, though, as keeping children out of the system. 

"Not everybody with a parent in prison is doomed to go, but almost every child who is in the system has a parent who has been there, too. Eighty-five percent of the state's incarcerated children have parents who've been to prison," said Richardson.

If those children were abandoned or physically abused, she said, the state would intervene by arranging foster care and other specialized services, but when children are "orphaned by incarceration," she said, there is scant attention given to the children -- until, of course, it's time for the criminal justice system to take them in.

Sometimes, though, there's mercy. Richardson said that she recently spoke to the prosecutor who handled her case in Lincoln Parish and that he said that he supported a lighter sentence for her than she deserved for her crime because "he thought about my children." 

Richardson now serves as a motivational speaker to children and running marathons to raise college money for students who've been dealt an awful hand. She'll be taking some nominations for scholarship recipients from the delinquency prevention board on which she used to serve, but she'll also be "taking letters from men and women in prison nominating their children."

States: Louisiana

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