Rep. Ron Barber recently announced that Pima Prevention Partnership will receive a $400,000 federal grant to expand a program that mentors the children of Arizona prison inmates.

“When a parent is sent to prison, there often are children who face challenges of their own,” Barber said today. “These children have done nothing wrong, so I applaud the important work Pima Prevention Partnership is doing to make sure the children have the support and mentorship they need.”

The grant was awarded today by the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. It will help fund the AZ STARS program operated by Pima Prevention Partnership in cooperation with Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs.

AZ STARS currently works with children of inmates as well as children whose parents are in the military. The project operates throughout Arizona except for the northeastern part of the state and Mohave County.

The new Justice Department grant will allow the partnership to expand its work with children of inmates to all parts of the state and to serve more people, said Claire Scheuren, deputy director of the organization.

Nationwide, there are about 3 million children who have a parent in prison. Arizona has the highest incarceration rate in the west, leaving about 100,000 Arizona children with a parent behind bars.

According to the partnership, children of incarcerated parents are among the most vulnerable populations of children. Often impoverished, they are at high risk for neglect and abuse, academic and behavioral problems, delinquency and substance abuse.

AZ STARS works with not only children whose parents are incarcerated, but also the caregivers of those children, Scheuren said. The new grant will allow the partnership to contract with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for recruiting and training mentors, she added. Children who live in high-risk environments – such as in areas where a high number of residents are in prison or there are high crime rates – also will be served through the program.

The program already has served almost 2,500 children and about 1,000 adult caregivers around the state, Scheuren said, resulting in lower delinquency rates and fewer behavioral problems among children who have been mentored.

“I’m sure that our success helped the Office of Justice Programs decide where to put their funds,” Scheuren said. “The federal officials wisely want to invest in programs that work.”

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