By Holly Herman

Seeing the razor wires while driving into the parking lot of a Pennsylvania state prison to visit a parent is traumatizing for children.

After going through security checks, the youngsters visit their parents in rooms in an institutional setting.

With the hope of providing comfort to the estimated 80,000 children of incarcerated parents in Pennsylvania prisons, arts and crafts programs are being provided in all 25 institutions, officials said Monday.

"We understand the important relationships between a parent and child, and we want to foster the continuation of those relationships through contact in our visiting room," Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel said Monday. "We are going a step further by allowing incarcerated parents the opportunity to share in creativity with their children through arts and crafts."

Under the new policy, each prison is coming up with a plan to provide crafts that could include origami, making bookmarks and other art projects.

The inmates will be allowed to bring artwork back to their cells as a way of bonding with their children.

Some state prisons, such as the state Correctional Institution at Chester in Delaware County, already provide crafts projects for children.

The policy is in response to a recommendation to Wetzel from Chad D. Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, a state agency charged with promoting civil rights and protecting people from discrimination in employment, housing, commercial property and public accommodations.

"As a social worker and volunteer in the prison system, I have seen firsthand the trauma children experience when their parent is incarcerated," Lassiter said.

Susan McNaughton, prison spokeswoman, said the plan calls for art supplies for all prisons, noting that scissors and glue will not be provided. The supplies will be kept in a secure area, and they will be issued by a security room supervisor.

(c)2019 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.)