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September 14, 2007

CONTACT: Steve Tompkins
(617) 961-6650


Children with parents incarcerated at the Suffolk County House of Correction have been extended an extraordinary opportunity to reconnect, thanks to a collaborative effort initiated by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and one caring, industrious teen.

As an eighth grader already immersed in several school community service projects, Needham resident Jane Handel, 17, first became aware of the great need for books and reading materials within some of the state’s correctional facilities through a family friend employed at MCI Framingham.

Amassing a growing stack of books through a series of fairs and partnerships with churches, bookstores, and schools, Jane was able to contribute over 9,200 books to MCI’s “A Book For Mom” program, which is designed to encourage literacy in incarcerated mothers and their children who visit them.

“I wanted to do a small project that would make a big difference and have a large impact,” Handel recalled. “I found out that there were limited resources in prisons and I wanted to help. I know that I loved reading with my mom as a child and I started to wonder what it would have been like if we were separated. I’m a strong believer that reading books can build success, and I wanted to get more books into the hands of these kids.”

As part of her plan to expand the scope of her program, Handel began working with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department to supplying books to bolster some of the literacy programs operating within the House of Correction (HOC) at South Bay.

One such program, entitled “Fathers’ Read Aloud,” was created to encourage literacy and to keep the connection between the incarcerated father and child active. In the program, the father chooses a book that is age appropriate and then reads the book aloud while recording his voice on a tape that will be sent to his child or children upon completion. The father then selects wrapping paper and ribbon, packages the book and tape, which is then sent to his child or children who will then be able to hear their father’s voice reading along with them as they go.

“The Department’s Read Aloud program encourages the relationship between parent and child. It rekindles the relationship between parent and child and helps to maintain it,” said Teacher Diana Barbero.

This along with other literacy programs within the HOC, the potential impact is unlimited.

“The simple act of reading a book to a child is an intimate and powerful behavior,” said Dorothy Dunford, Director of Education for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. “Jane’s efforts can greatly rejuvenate and strengthen the parent–child bond. I think she’s an amazing young woman.”

The Department has received 700 books to distribute – all sorted by age – and all, says teacher Diane Barbero, infused with the ability to educate and promote a greater relationship between parent and child during a difficult time.

“The books are also being used in the women’s visiting area and the men’s visiting area for children to take home,” Barbero said. “This is the most gratifying thing I have done in education,” continued Barbero. “The books were beautifully chosen and the selection was really wonderful. I’m indebted to this student for bringing joy to my students, their children, and our teachers.”

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