NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Parenting from behind bars, that’s the goal of a Norfolk City Jail program made possible through a $750,000 grant.

The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office is one of 10 sheriff’s offices nationwide to receive the grant to develop the “Second Chances Program,” which has opened many doors for the jail, inmates and their families.

Through the program, Norfolk inmates are learning how to parent from behind bars with help from a rehabilitation specialist and a licensed clinical therapist supervisor. Parents living outside of the jail are also benefiting with classes.

Christiana Kowalski say she’s thankful for the program because it’s a chance for her son Camper to see his father without a glass wall in the way.

“It helps basically the moms and dads that are incarcerated learn how to co-parent while they are in jail, and it also gives them an opportunity to see them and hang out with them and let them get to know the kids,” Kowalski said. “It just breaks my heart that he’s missing out on his child’s life.”

Kowalski’s fiancé has been in jail three separate times since the start of their relationship. The “Second Chances Program” is working with inmates in the jail, mothers and children at home, and then reuniting them throughout the 12-week program.   

“It’s really about the kids, I want my son to know his dad,” Kowalski said.

According to Justice Strategies, there are 2.7 million minor children who have a parent in jail or prison. In other words, 1 in 28 American children (3.6%) have an incarcerated parent. Just 25 years ago, the number was 1 in 125.

The grant allowed the jail to hire an inmate rehabilitation specialist and licensed clinical therapist supervisor, Dr. Nicole Harris.

“They get to interact with their kids prior to release, so they can do that prior to release,” Harris said. “The inmates have changed.”

The program is in 3 parts:

1) Inmate: parenting classes, reentry services, cognitive behavior therapy

2) Custodial family: parenting classes for the mothers or other legal guardian, therapy services for the children

3) Reintroduction: coordinated letter writing, in-person visitation in a non-correctional setting (probably a local church) with planned activities

The program also utilizes an outside agency, helping children of inmates with wrap around services such as tutoring.

Lamont Rowe is one of the inmates enrolled in the program.

“When I make decisions, I have to make decisions for more than just me … but for my family,” Rowe said. “I know it’s hard on [my fiancée], she’s doing everything on her own now. All I can do is take what I’ve learned, go back in society and change a lot of things that I was doing and keep on going.”

Lamont’s fiancée, who doesn’t want to be identified, tells 10 On Your Side she’s part of the program and waiting for Lamont to come home.

“It means a lot because I don’t have to take my child down there to see him behind glass. It’s very hard as a single parent trying to raise the kids on my own, he was like a big part that really helped, and when he left it was like a big chunk of the family, just like gone.” 

Second Chances will remain as a service within the Norfolk City Jail, and Dr. Harris says there are currently 13 inmates and families enrolled in the program.