Children of inmates get a second chance

Tomeisha Smith's mother has been in and out of jail since she was 8 years old.
CBS News

(CBS News) TULSA, Okla. - When parents go to jail, their children suffer and run a higher risk of going to prison themselves someday. A program aimed at breaking the cycle is helping hundreds of children in Oklahoma hard hit by meth abuse, which imprisons more women per capita then any other state.

While this may look like a typical art class, these students all share one thing in common: at least one of their parents is in prison.

Anger is an emotion shared by most of the kids at this program called New Hope. Tomeisha Smith's mother has been in and out of jail since she was eight years old.

"She acts like a kid," Smith said,"instead of being a mother."

About 85 percent of the women sent to Oklahoma's prisons have children. As mothers serve time, New Hope is the only comprehensive program in the state to help their kids. Over 400 are currently enrolled, with more than 100 on a waiting list.

Tshaka Rivers is the director of programs at New Hope. His dad was in prison while he was growing up, and Rivers himself was arrested in the 9th grade.

"I might be the only positive male figure in their life," he said. "One of the girls grabbed my arm and said, 'I wish you were my daddy.' I mean, what do you say?"

The non-profit program includes tutoring, meals, and counseling. It also requires service to others, such as lending a hand to the homeless.

Smith says she has a desire to help other kids whose parents are in prison. With plans to become a psychologist, she knows what she will tell them.

"Even though they have their parent's genes in them, they don't have to be the same person, they can be their own person."

According to federal statistics, children with a parent in prison are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves. New Hope believes it has broken the cycle. Over the past 10 years, none of the young people who came through its doors have spent a day behind bars.