The NAACP began its three-day National Religious Leaders Summit yesterday with an emphasis on incarcerated women, encouraging the faith community to take a leadership role on matters of social justice.


The summit, themed “The Faith Community, The Trumpet of Conscience, began Monday in Atlanta, Ga., with a brief detailing the social justice, education, economic and health issues that plague these women before and after incarceration.


The brief examined factors contributing to the enormous growth of African-American women within the criminal justice system. According to the brief, more than one million women are under the supervision of the U.S. criminal justice system. From 1991 to 2007, the number of incarcerated mothers increased by 122 percent.


NAACP officials say the growing numbers of incarcerated women will have a devastating impact on American families.


“The vast majority of homes are anchored by women and increases in incarceration equates to a decline in family stability,” stated Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP.


The information found in the NAACP’s report mirrors the statistics of Volunteers of America’s recent report entitled “Childhood Disrupted: Understanding the Features and Effects of Maternal Incarceration.” The report released last week by the faith-based group revealed that 150,000 American children have mothers who are in federal and state prisons.


According to the Volunteer of America’s research, incarcerated mothers also battle issues such as poverty, homelessness and drug addiction. Of mothers entering prison, 91 percent admitted to substance abuse problems. Also, most of imprisoned mothers expressed concern for their ability to support their children upon their release.


In the end, Jealous said, newly released mothers are likely to struggle with employment, housing and re-entry into their communities. The Volunteers of America report showed that 81 percent of children of incarcerated mothers are likely to live disjointed lives separated from their mothers.


“It’s crucial that children whose mothers are incarcerated have the same opportunities to build the academic, social and emotional skills needed for a successful adulthood,” expressed Mike King, Volunteers of America’s national president, in a statement.


Jealous, meanwhile, encouraged the church to step up to help incarcerated women and their families.


“Given the role that churches and other houses of faith, have historically played in providing communities with spiritual, financial and social supports, they are a key partner in our ability to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals have an opportunity to get back on the path towards lifelong success following a temporary setback,” he urged.


The National Religious Leaders Summit is an interfaith conference hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.


The summit continues Tuesday with sessions on climate justice and health advocacy. The conference closes on Wednesday with legislative planning sessions and an interfaith fellowship.

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