CHICAGO June 14, 2013 The Staff and Board of Directors of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) proudly announces that Founder and Senior Policy Consultant, Gail T. Smith, was honored earlier this week in a special White House ceremony as a Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative Champion of Change.
Each week, the White House invites Americans who are doing extraordinary work in their communities to a Champions of Change ceremony to recognize their accomplishments and ideas. On Wednesday morning, June 12, the Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative hosted the ceremony, to highlight advocates like Gail who are working across the country on behalf of children of incarcerated parents, their caregivers, and their families.
According to a recent White House press release, "These individuals…have worked on the front line to ensure that innocent children, nearly 2 million of whom have a parent who is incarcerated, do not suffer as a consequence of adult decisions. The Champions… have helped scores of children and their families by minimizing the potential negative impacts of having a parent who is incarcerated, including, for example, financial instability, changes in housing, and isolation due to stigma.
After the event, Gail spoke to the ongoing urgency of the work carried out by CLAIM and all of this week's Champions of Change: "Children need their parents. The most important thing we can do for them is to consider their needs on the front end, at bail and sentencing, to reduce incarceration of mothers and fathers charged with nonviolent offenses. We have much more work to do to prevent harm to children instead of addressing the damage our system does to them after it has happened."
In his remarks at Wednesday's ceremony, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole stated,
"I...want to thank the Champions for being fierce advocates for our children. We are glad to give you the recognition you deserve." Gail has indeed been a dedicated, passionate and effective advocate for the past twenty-seven years and CLAIM is thrilled to see her recognized by the federal government for her tremendous work.
Highlights of Gail's exemplary leadership include:
-Writing and championing legislation to ban the use of shackles on pregnant women. Thanks to Gail's efforts, Illinois was the first state to ban the practice of shackling during labor.
-Convening the Illinois Task Force for Children of Prisoners, Children of Promise, which won improvements including a children's visiting center at Cook County Jail.
-Testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Illinois General Assembly, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
-Receiving the Impact Award from Chicago Foundation for Women in 2012, the National Organization for Women-Chicago Chapter's 2011 Women Who Dared award, and the 2005 YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago's Racial Justice Award.
-Promoting community alternatives to prison for parents charged with nonviolent offenses to keep parents and children together.
-Working to reduce termination of parental rights and to promote restorative justice practices.
CLAIM will be holding a special reception event this coming fall, on October 2, to honor Gail's extraordinary leadership and advocacy over the last three decades. Full details will be released later this summer.
CLAIM extends congratulations to Gail, and to all of this week's Champions of Change who were honored at the White House on June 12 for their work on behalf of children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers.