Moms Behind Bars: How To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation

Illustration for article titled Moms Behind Bars: How To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation

According to a Time article by Tammerlin Drummond, the number of women in prison has risen 650% over the last twenty years and there are more than 100,000 female inmates with children under 18 in local, state or federal custody. Many of those women are single parents and, statistically speaking, of the 1.5 million children in the U.S. with one incarcerated parent, half can be expected to commit a crime of their own before they turn 18.It probably goes without saying that many of the women in prison are minorities, locked up under mandatory-sentencing provisions of our War on Drugs. So, what is being done for the children that are increasingly turning into a lost generation? Like in everything else, there are good and bad things. In New York, Washington and Nebraska, prisons are opening up nursery facilities where children can stay with their mothers until they are between 12 and 18 months old. In California, some non-violent female offenders might be sentenced to a residential drug treatment program where children up to the age of six are welcome. Both programs show a much lower recidivism rate among participants compared to the national 52% recidivism rate. Other states have more piecemeal programs, in which non-profits use webcams to help incarcerated women read to their children or the Girl Scouts bus children to the facilities in which their mothers are incarcerated for meetings. In Michigan, the state has a program to teach incarcerated women parenting skills and help them reconnect with their often older children. Most agree that continued contact between non-abusive mothers and their children can be helpful in both keeping the children from entering the criminal justice system and keeping the mothers from re-entering it after their release. This is obviously why Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which allows states to terminate the parental rights of parents who spend 15 of the last 22 months in prison — even though, in some states, a person could spend that long awaiting trial and be acquitted. Ellen Barry of Prisoners with Children says of that brilliant idea, "We're creating a monster," by shunting more children — especially older children, and especially the children of minorities — into an already strained foster care and adoption system. But, like everything else, it comes down to the age-old American question: do we use our criminal justice system to rehabilitate those criminals that fall into it, or do we simply use it as a means punishment? And who aren't we willing to punish? Because, when it comes to separating mothers from children and sending more and more kids into foster care, we might be punishing the mother with the loss of her freedom, but we're punishing plenty of children with the loss of their mother — and, in too many cases, creating new future participants in both systems. Mothers In Prison [Time]

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`


Vivelafat is the Quizatez Haderach

What about the fathers? They don't get to spend time with their new born children? Are we assuming they don't care about their children? This is kind of discriminatory agains men (boy I never thought I'd say that.)