PORTLAND - Miss America was in Portland Tuesday with a message about children in prison, something that has never been delivered by someone wearing the crown.

Even Laura Kaeppeler admits the subject is sometimes taboo.

It s not glamorous and it s not warm and fuzzy, she explained but people need to talk about what happens to kids when their parents go to prison, she said.

Kaeppeler s own Father went to prison for a non-violent crime when she was 17.

I have two other sisters and suddenly my mom was a single parent. We were so ashamed and it s a stigma that stays with you, she recalled.

Since her crowning in January, she s been traveling the country calling attention to the cause.

In Portland she spoke at a fundraising luncheon for Pathfinders of Oregon and the Clackamas County Children of Incarcerated Parents Committee.

It s not often we get a nationally recognized figure to call attention to this subject which is often just ignored, remarked Rebecca Witten of Pathfinders.

In Oregon, 22,000 children have a parent in a state or federal prison. Thousands of others have parents on parole or probation.

These children are more likely to drop out of school and end up in prison themselves, said Kaeppeler.

Her reign ends in January and she plans to go to law school with the goal of becoming a full-time advocate for children.

Their lives can have meaning. They don t need to be defined or limited by what their parents did, she concluded.

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