Letters to the Editor: July 1, 2015 

Concerning incarceration

I want to commend Ben Felder for posing tough questions and sharing (what should be) startling statistics around the achievement gap between our African-American co-citizens and their white peers (News, Cover, “Warning bells,” June 3, Oklahoma Gazette).

The hard truth is we face problems both systematic and intergenerational, leaving no area of life untouched.

Poverty, low academic achievement and incarceration are huge barriers impeding our friends’ and neighbors’ success, each having many layers from root cause to breaking the cycles and adverse effects. In a state that incarcerates women more than any other in the nation and ranks No. 3 or No. 4 for men (depending how Texas is feeling), we have a unique challenge. Children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely to enter the justice system than their peers. There are 50,000 children across Oklahoma who have one or both parent incarcerated.

Research shows that mentorship is the only proven prevention measure to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and incarceration. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma has employed evidence-based strategies in Oklahoma communities for more than 50 years. Because we are able to reach at-risk children before they are making hard choices that come along with early parenting, dropping out of school, violence and drug and alcohol abuse, it is effective and efficient.

When a caring adult mentor stands in the gap, at-risk children defy statistics. Data shows that after participation in our program for 12 months, 86 percent have a boost in self-confidence and 80 percent are better equipped to express their feelings. Sixty-eight percent improve academic performance and they are 75 percent more likely to earn a college degree. A community-wide achievement gap requires a community-wide response. We have children all over the state sitting on a waiting list. They’ve raised their hand, asking for someone to walk alongside them as they navigate life. Mentorship requires presence, not perfection.

If you’d like more information, please call us at 943-8075.

— Rachel Hernandez

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma

Oklahoma City

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