Currently, there are upwards of 207,000 women in U.S. prisons or jails — an 800 percent increase since the late 1970s. In fact, women today account for just under 10 percent of the total incarcerated population, according to the most recent statistics from the Correctional Association of New York’s Women in Prison Project. Of those, some 62 percent have children under 18. Two-thirds of these children lived with their mother before she began serving her sentence.
In addition, some 5 percent of women reported being pregnant at the time they went into custody. This, combined with the desire to keep families intact has even led to a growing trend in prison nurseries.
Note: I’m not saying that women shouldn’t pay the price for their behavior just because they’re typically the primary caregivers for their children. I do believe, however, that more needs to be done to minimize the impact of prison terms on offenders’ innocent kids. Many reentry organizations do this with counseling and support groups they offer to families of offenders. The Family and Corrections Network, has a number of programs attempting to meet the needs of the families of the incarcerated.
It’s support the kids need. One Mom I recently worked with said her 10 year old daughter kept trying to get in trouble at school after her mother was sentenced to 18 months in jail. “She even told me that if I she got sent to prison, then we could be together. It was horrible.” For another Mom, it was easier not to tell her 4 year old. As a result, he currently thinks she was away at school all that time.
In many cases, mothers lose custody of their children, who are farmed out to foster homes or distant relatives. That makes re-entry parenting all that much harder.
So today, think of the Moms and kids. And Moms and kids, if you’ve faced this challenge, we’d love to know how you handled it.