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Service, Student Activities, Student Perspective

Incarceration & Children: How a Little Phone Call Can Make a Big Difference

By Sarah Orange, ’14, for Voices for Racial Justice

Children across the Nation are often the invisible victims of mass incarceration. In June 2013, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street, recognized this challenge when it launched a new program called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” This program seeks to reach the 2.7 million children in the U.S. with an incarcerated parent through videos, crafts, music, and more. In one of the Sesame Street videos about incarceration, Alex (if you haven’t watched the show in a while that’s the orange puppet with blue hair) talks about how his father is incarcerated and the difficulties that he and other children like him face, including not always being able to talk to their parent. This program recognizes the importance of maintaining communication between children and their incarcerated parent. Maintaining routine communication is essential for helping children to understand and successfully cope with this difficult situation. A little phone call can make a big difference in the lives of children with an incarcerated parent.

Did you know: of the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, 15,000 of them live right here in Minnesota? However, Minnesotan children are often denied the ability to maintain close contact with their incarcerated parent. First, because prisoners are incarcerated an average of 100 miles away from their families making in person visits difficult. Second, because it costs over $17 to make a 15-minute collect phone call out of a Minnesota prison. It is cheaper to call Singapore. These phone calls are so expensive because prison phone providers attract government contracts by offering the state a kickback – a percentage of the prison phone provider’s profits. In Minnesota, the prison system receives 49% of the profit that the phone provider makes from prison phone calls. However, community members and local civil rights organizations are taking action to stop this injustice. The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted policy changes regarding interstate prison phone calls which will lower phone rates across state lines and in federal prisons, however, these reforms do not affect intrastate (local) calls in Minnesota. Much more work is needed to address this issue within Minnesota in order to support children and families. For the children impacted, this cost barrier to communication can have devastating effects, resulting in emotional stress and behavioral challenges.

The impact of limited contact between children and parents has a far-reaching impact on Minnesota’s children. Studies have demonstrated that “lack of regular contact with incarcerated parents has been linked to truancy, homelessness, depression, aggression, and poor classroom performance in children.” (Federal Communications Commission, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 13-113 (Sept. 26, 2013)). Furthermore, studies indicate that maintaining contact with an incarcerated parent is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s emotional response and reduce behavioral problems. But in Minnesota the high cost of making a phone call from prison prevents this critical communication between the parent and child.

This problem most significantly affects children from communities of color. African American children are nine times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than White children. But the problem does not stop there. Forty-four percent of African American households in Minnesota live below the poverty line. For these families the cost of communicating with a loved one in prison can mean having to forgo basic necessities and places on strain on family budgets. The high cost of prison phone calls can be a significant barrier preventing African American children from maintaining communication with an incarcerated parent. Hence, the impact of the high cost of prison phone calls is far-reaching. However, a solution to this challenge is within our reach.

We can make a big difference in a child’s life today by raising awareness related to prison phone justice and educating others about this important issue. By reducing the cost of a prison phone call, we can ensure that families can remain connected. This is essential for promoting strong families and safe communities in the state of Minnesota. Take action today by visiting the Prison Phone Justice Campaign website at and signing up to help fight for prison phone justice in Minnesota.

Sarah Orange is a Certified Student Attorney with the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The work of the Community Justice Project civil rights clinic focuses on training law students to serve as social engineers who create new inroads to justice and freedom.

Community, Mission in Action, Service

Mission in Action: UST Law Graduates Recognized by MN State Bar Association for Pro Bono Legal Service

Many University of St. Thomas School of Law graduates have a passion and commitment to serving low income clients and providing pro bono service to the community. For the first time, the Minnesota State Bar Association recognized North Star Lawyers. North Star Lawyers each provided at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services in 2012. Thirty-one UST Law graduates were recognized as 2012 North Star Lawyers:

Pamela Abbate-Dattilo (’09)

Phillip Ashfield (’08)

Michael Boulette (’10)

Victoria Jacobson Brenner (’04)

Audrey Burnett (’10)

Erin Collins (’08)

Erin Knapp Darda (’07)

Ryan Else (’11)

Kellen Fish (’10)

Beth Forsythe (’06)

Nicole Frank (’08)

Matthew Frerichs (’04)

Nathan Kumagai (’08)

John Lindemann (’04)

Allison Maxim (’05)

Gloria Myre (’07)

Kate Nilan (’06)

Bree Peterson (’09)

Colin Peterson (’09)

Andrew Pieper (’08)

Lindsay Popovich (’04)

Rebecca Ribich (’05)

Breia Schleuss (’08)

Joel Schroeder (’04)

John Scully (’10)

Jeffrey Smith (’06)

Brock Specht (’07)

Katrina Viegas (’10)

Michael Warren (’04)

Barbara Weckman Brekke (’05)

Bryce Young (’10)

**For the graduates with a hyperlink, you may view their profile on UST Law Lawyer Search (

UST Law congratulates these alumni on their recognition by the MSBA and is in awe of their incredible service to communities and individuals in need. To learn more about the North Star Lawyer recognition and to view a complete list of the 2012 North Star Lawyers, visit

Community, Diversity, Service, Student Perspective

UST Law Student Organizes Books for Africa Drive

Starting this week, the UST law school will be hosting a book drive to benefit Books for Africa. For those of you who do not know about Books for Africa, it is a non-profit organization headquartered in St. Paul and is the largest shipper of donated books in all of Africa. Their mission is to help those in Africa to learn and improve their reading skills. In 2012 alone, they sent over 2 million books to readers of all ages.

So how can you help during this book drive? In one or more of three ways. First, any books that you may have that you are willing to donate can be picked up by me or dropped off in the collection box located on the second floor outside of the law library (Minneapolis campus). The books can be new or slightly used, educational or fun. Donate virtually any kind of book, from old textbooks (within last 10 years) to your favorite novel or the children’s story that inspired you to read. If you wish, simply contact me (info below) to setup a time and I will be happy to come and get them from you.

Second, you can donate funds directly to the organization at:

Lastly, the book drive will close with a volunteer event at the BFA warehouse in St. Paul on April 20th from 10-2 and 12-2. On that day you can volunteer for a few hours helping to sort and pack the books so that they can be shipped overseas. If you are interested in volunteering please email Jim Skoog at as space is limited. To find out more about Books for Africa please visit their website at:

Any help you can lend in getting the word out is also appreciated. Please note, the book drive will end on April 19th. The Books for Africa warehouse is located at 635 Prior Ave. N. Suite 100, St. Paul, MN 55104.

Thank you for your time. For more information, please contact:

Ryan Ogren


Books for Africa 1 Books for Africa 2

Community, Service, Student Activities, Student Perspective

Winter Hats from the Admissions Office

Nicki L., Current 1L UST Law Student, Guest Blogger

During the Spring of my senior year of college, many of the law schools that I had applied for sent me various small gifts and hand written notes.  The University of St. Thomas- School of Law sent me the most unique gift: a hat. I knew that hats are essential to any winter wardrobe, but I did not know when I would ever wear this particular hat.

Nicki and Allison at the Fall Public Service Day

Allison and Nicki at the Fall Public Service Day

I, along with other law students, finally got our chance to wear the famous 1L hats during Fall Public Service Day.  At UST Law, students are required to complete 50 hours of public service.  I believe this is one of the most socially minded and essential graduation requirements.  The Public Service Board at UST Law helps students by organizing public service opportunities.  

In the Fall, we volunteered with Great River Greening by planting trees.  It was an enjoyable experience to get outside, plant some trees, and beautify the surrounding community.  This Spring, students are working with Habitat for Humanity for Public Service Day.  Maybe we will get the chance to wear our 1L hats once again!