Kentucky Judge Amber Wolf keeps reminding us that just because a person is in a courtroom doesn't mean they shouldn't be treated with humanity. A few weeks ago, Judge Wolf made national headlines for her horrified reaction to finding out that a defendant was reportedly left in a Louisville jail without pants or access to feminine hygiene products. This week, Wolf is in the news again for an act of kindness that may have a lasting effect.
James Roeder and his wife Ashley are currently on trial as defendants in a burglary case. Since the trial began, Judge Wolf had ordered the two not to have any contact with each other. In the intervening period, Ashley gave birth to the couple's son.
Realizing in court that Roeder hadn't yet met his 30-day-old son because the no-contact order had been put in place more than a month before, Judge Wolf invited the couple into the courtroom together and made an exception so the father could hold his son for the first time.
"I saw her try to hold the baby up when he came out for his case to be called with his attorney," Wolf told local news station WDRB. "And I thought that he hadn't seen that. And it occurred to me after we finished this case that he had not met his baby — who was 30 days old — and that he was not going to get an opportunity to meet his baby anytime in the near future."
2.7 million children have parents behind bars, as reported by Jezebel. Judge Wolf's act of leniency is a nod to how difficult that situation can be for any family. Her decision to let James meet his young son is sure to be seen favorably by organizations like SKIP Community Resource Services, an organization which works with families to provide services for children of incarcerated individuals.
Several studies have shown that parental incarceration can have greater effects on a child's schoolwork than divorce or even the death of a parent. Children with incarcerated parents have higher rates of attention deficits, behavioral problems, and speech and delays, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Just one percent to two percent of students with incarcerated mothers graduate college. Only 13 percent to 25 percent of students with incarcerated fathers reach the same milestone.
In a video released by local news station WDRB, the father can be seen holding and kissing his baby as he and his wife wipe their eyes. Judge Wolf gave the bailiff some tissues to pass out to people witnessing the event in the courtroom, and let the couple stand together with their child for about a minute.
"Do you see his little shirt?" Judge Wolf asked James, smiling.
"Yeah... yeah," the dad responded.
Heartwarming stories like this highlight a growing interest in prison reform, which has become a bipartisan issue in recent years. While positive changes to our prison system are happening every day, there is still plenty of work to be done.
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