SANTA CLARITA (CBSLA.com) — It was a weekend to remember for nearly 50 male inmates at a Southland detention center after spending some quality time with their little ones.
For the fifth straight year, inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center South Facility in Castaic were reunited with their children to enjoy food, games and entertainment in a carnival-style atmosphere.
The one-day “Returning Hearts Celebration” was first organized and sponsored by the Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita back in 2008 as a way to bring incarcerated fathers closer to their children and to help break the cycle of crime and separation from families.
Inmates selected to take part in the celebration had previously chosen to enroll in the 12-week Malachi Dads Spiritual Growth Program that teaches participants the positive fundamentals of fatherhood.
Since the celebration is devoted to uniting children with their dads, no other family members were in attendance. The children were chaperoned throughout the day by volunteers from the Awana Lifeline Ministries. Numerous deputies and jail staff were also present.
In addition to funding the event, Grace Baptist Church provided the nearly 200 volunteers necessary to serve food, staff games and provide musical entertainment on an open compound that is isolated from other inmates at Pitchess.
This program is offered to inmates as part of the Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation (MERIT) Program, which is administered by the Department’s Education Based Incarceration Bureau (EBI). The MERIT Program promotes personal growth, accountability and decision making.
“The Returning Hearts” program is a great way for the fathers to reconnect with their children. We are extremely proud to be a small part of this outstanding effort,” said EBI Captain Mike Bornman.
Visits that include personal contact between parents and children are very unusual in the county jail system and only take place under controlled conditions such as this special event.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Religious and Volunteer Services Unit, which is overseen by EBI, coordinates all religious activity within the county jails and ensures that inmates have access to ministers, spiritual advisors and moral rehabilitation programs of their choice.