Our children are affected by our incarceration

From: SF Bay View

January 31, 2013

by Amy Buckley

In America there are 24 million children with an incarcerated parent. These children are affected in numerous ways and those effects can be detrimental, often attributing to rebellious behavior and other problems. Judges do not consider children when sentencing a parent, nor do they consider where those children will go or who will care for them. As parents, we must think about our children before we act because the courts have no money and our children are the ones suffering.

Child stays in Indian prison w mother until 6 yo by National Geographic

About 2 million U.S. children have at least one parent in prison, and more than half of the nation’s inmates have children under age 18. Children born to incarcerated women in the United States are usually taken away within 72 hours of birth. In contrast, at Tihar Jail in India, female prisoners are allowed to keep their child with them in prison until the child is 6 years old.

Between 1980 and 2010 the rate of women in prison increased by 646 percent, according to The Sentencing Project. These women are more likely to have minor children than are men. Grandparents often have to step in and raise their grandchildren when a mother goes to prison, though some children end up with other relatives or in foster care. The statistics are alarming and our children’s futures are at stake.

When a parent is incarcerated, it creates financial and material hardships, as well as causing an imbalance in family relationships and structure. For the children, a parent’s incarceration often results in behavior and performance problems in school and at home and can also cause social and institutional stigma and shame. These children are more susceptible to depression and anger, and many have symptoms of post-traumatic stress reaction.

Children are forced to give up the things that matter the most to them: their homes, safety, public status, private self-image, and their primary source of comfort and affection. Most young children identify themselves with their parents or blame themselves for their parents’ absence. These children should not have to suffer.

As parents, it is important to do what we can to maintain a relationship with our children while we serve our sentences. This relationship will help improve the child’s emotional response to our incarceration and will encourage parent-child attachment. We must reiterate to our children that our incarceration is in no way their fault and help to rebuild their self-esteem by encouragement and positive reinforcement.

Keeping the lines of communication open and being willing to listen to our children is also very important. Children need to know that even though we are absent from the home, we are still available to help solve problems and offer advice.

Children are forced to give up the things that matter the most to them: their homes, safety, public status, private self-image, and their primary source of comfort and affection.

Just as parents feel the need to protect their children, children often feel the need to protect their parents. I have experienced this personally in my relationship with my sons. I feel that it is important to let our children know that they can tell or ask us anything without the fear of us becoming angry.

If a child senses that they have angered or upset their parent, they often change the subject of the conversation or withdraw completely from the conversation and their parent. How we control ourselves when communicating with our children will determine the child’s willingness to open up to us.

Children are very perceptive, and the things they hear about their parents and themselves affects them as much as their parents’ incarceration. They can become defensive and angry, acting out and coming to resent the people around them. This can result in behavioral problems which can be self-destructive if not quickly worked through and corrected.

Some children may need counseling to help them adjust to and understand the things that are happening in their lives, while others may be able to cope without professional help. We must make sure that our children have mental and emotional stability during what is a capricious time in their lives.

Another way to help our children is through personal visits. Unfortunately, more than half of incarcerated parents have never had a personal visit from their children, the Sentencing Project reported in 2009. The distance between the parents’ last place of residence and the prison where they are now housed is one factor that makes it difficult for family members to bring children to see their parents.

Other factors include, but are not limited to, financial instability and lack of transportation. Personal visits are important to both parents and children, improving the children’s emotional life and helping reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

Our children have needs, and those needs should be considered when sentences are handed down. Laws must be implemented to expand the judge’s capacity to consider children. Family impact statements should be included in pre-sentence investigation reports, and all information in that report should be taken into consideration. Judges should assess the effects a given sentence will have on children and their families and then choose the least detrimental sentence or sentencing alternative, i.e., probation, house arrest, drug rehabilitation etc.

More than half of incarcerated parents have never had a personal visit from their children.

An incarcerated person with strong family bonds will be more likely to succeed upon release. For children, a strong, well maintained relationship with the absent parent is key to their successful development. The parent-child relationship should always be recognized and valued even during adverse circumstances. When our children are treated with respect, have their potential recognized and are afforded opportunities, they have a better chance of overcoming the stigma of their parents’ incarceration.

We as parents have made choices that have forever affected our children. The damage that has been caused is often indelible, but with the proper care and love the effects can be lessened. Our children can grow into healthy adults despite our incarceration.

We need to encourage our children and reassure them that they are loved. When our children see us striving to do better, they will be more apt to do the same. Our mistakes should not ruin our children’s prospects for the rest of their lives. Our children are our future and they should not have to worry about being judged for our mistakes.

An incarcerated person with strong family bonds will be more likely to succeed upon release. For children, a strong, well maintained relationship with the absent parent is key to their successful development.

As an incarcerated mother, I see how my sons have been affected by my absence. They are teenagers now, young men really, and I have worked hard to maintain a relationship with them. I see the justice system as a failure! It has failed not only the children, but the incarcerated as well. Many changes need to be made and our children need their rights protected. We cannot give up. Our children are too important, so we must continue to fight for them.

In closing, I would like to leave you with some statistics to ponder: Three in 100 American children will go to sleep tonight with a parent in jail or prison; one in eight African American children has a parent behind bars; one in 10 children of prisoners will be incarcerated before reaching the age of 18, according to the UN Human Rights Council.

These statistics should be an eye-opener for us. We must not forget our children and, for them, we must dare to struggle, dare to win!

Send our sister some love and light: Amy Buckley, 150005, KNRCF, 374 Stennis Ind. Park Rd., DeKalb, MS 39328.

Criminalized Victims: Feeding Mothers to the Machine…

Via Lois Ahrens at the Real Cost of Prisons Blog. Very troubling article, though nothing new. I don’t understand how we can just rip people out of their families and lives and imprison them for years – some until they die – to what good end? I don’t think judges often realize how important some of these “criminals” are to their families. Some community-based support for the whole family to remain together, for moms to make amends by finally being there, seems more in order – and you have to make more effort to keep “repeat offenders” in the community – it takes more than one try for most people to kick a habit.


Mothers among the fastest growing prison population
by Cat Mayin Koo
March 11, 2010

She squared her posture and with a piercing, straight-ahead look, the 49-year-old grandmother of six said, “Crack. I was ad­dicted to crack for over 20 years.”

Darlene Horton, now an advocate at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, paid the price for her addiction. The Peoria native went to prison twice, the first for most of a year in 1997 and the second for two and a half years less than a decade later.

Both were nonviolent offenses that left her four children without a parent.

Horton’s tale is emblematic of one of the fastest growing prison populations in the state and county: mothers.

Between 1990 and 2005, the number of women in Illinois prisons quadrupled, according to the state Department of Corrections.

At both the state and county level, about 80 percent of women are convicted of nonviolent crimes and around 80 percent of them are single mothers, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

A main reason for this dramatic upswing is most of these crimes – up to 80 percent – are drug related, said Gail Smith, executive director of the advocacy group.

“Sentencing has gotten much, much harsher on drugs since the ‘war on drugs’ began in the 1980s,” Smith said.

Changed laws impacted more women, poor and African-Americans, said Patricia O’Brien, a social work researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies incarcerated mothers.

Penalties for crack cocaine, found more often in poor black neighborhoods, are 10 times more severe than penalties for powder cocaine, which is more expensive and found more in affluent white communities.

“It did next to nothing to the drug king pins, but it destroyed many, many lives,” Smith said.

Stacking trauma

Back in the downtown office, Horton unravelled her personal history of abuse, incest and rape.

Horton began using drugs to “start looking for love and the feeling of not feeling,” she said.

In Cook County, eight of 10 female offenders have been physically or sexually abused and more than three-quarters of them are addicted to drugs.

O’Brien found the link between abuse and addiction common in her research.

“Women tend to internalize their pain and that’s where the drug use and the alcohol come to play – self-medication,” O’Brien said.

Smith described imprisonment as adding to this pain.

Most women who come out of prison have been abused, so you’re putting trauma on trauma,” Smith said

O’Brien’s research shows that trauma is one of the pathways that lead women to crime. Others include early exposure to crime and the absence of a parent.

Missing moms

Horton’s children never came to visit her when she was in prison. They were hours away and didn’t have the money or means to get to the Decatur Correctional Center.

Phone calls were a rare luxury. The only contact with her children Horton had was when her oldest daughter, Nicole, who was 17 at the time of Horton’s first incarceration, would write.

One letter stuck out to Horton.

“I wasn’t allowed an emergency phone call when my son got shot in the head,” Horton said.

Horton found out about the incident in a letter and was threatened with more severe punishment when she kept asking for the call.

Her incarceration devastated her children and the effects still linger, Horton said. Jeffrey and Randy, her sons were both imprisoned as young men.

“My oldest daughter, she stressed to me on many occasions that she hated me,” Horton said. Rebuilding that relationship was a slow process, Horton said.

Smith agreed that incarceration tears a family apart.

“Any time you’ve had a separation,” Smith said, “the mom and kids need to overcome the trauma of the separation and the mistrust and anger and everything that ensued from that arrest.”


In Illinois, imprisoned mothers get little or no contact visits with their children, O’Brien said.

Yes, there are programs geared specifically for mothers, such as the 15-bed MOM’s program offered to pregnant or postpartum offenders through the county’s Women’s Justice Services.The off-site program rewards good behavior for non-violent offenders and allows women to serve a portion of their sentences with their children.

But these programs are available to a scanty few of the women who need them. Most women who give birth in prison usually have less than two days with their child, O’Brien said.

“As the population increased, money for programs decreased,” O’Brien said.

Drug treatment is another area that lacks adequate resources.

Roughly 80 percent of women in state prisons need substance abuse treatment, but only 16 percent will ever receive it, according to data from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“People don’t understand that addiction keeps going even though you’re locked up,” Horton said, “and the next time you decide to get high, it takes off full speed, like you never quit.”

Within a year, 39 percent of released women will re-offend and within three years, 58 percent of women will re-offend, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice.

Part of the reason why incarceration is ineffective at preventing second offenses is because of the way women are put through the system, Smith said.

“Corrections tend to be based on a male model,” Smith said. “The assumption is that you are dealing with someone who is incarcerated for a violent offense.”

Better options might be what Smith calls gender-specific, trauma-informed treatment that would take into account abuse and drug dependency.

The Women’s Treatment Center offers such treatment, allowing women convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to receive dependency treatment and complete their sentences with their children.

Out of the 45 participants who completed the program over the last three years, none have been reincarcerated. State recidivism rates for women hover above 45 percent.

“Until we understand that this is more a public health problem than a criminal issue, we’re going to continue to have people recidivate,” Smith said.

“We know we’re hurting families and we’re failing to address something that prevents futures crimes and in the next generation,” she said.

Side Bar: and URLs for Graphs on Women and Incarceration: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=161609

‘War on drugs’

The modern “war on drugs” that began in the 1980s marked a metamorphosis in the way America policed and punished.

A slew of drug laws were altered to have heavier penalties.

One of the effects of this is drug offenders in the nation’s prisons skyrocketed by almost 1,100 percent from around 41,000 in 1980 to 490,000 in 2003, while national violent crime rates plummeted, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In Chicago, drug arrests in 1980 made up only 5 percent of total arrests. By 2003 they made up 28 percent of all arrests, according to a report by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit.

Girls and justice

Girls make up the fastest growing population of juvenile delinquents, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

National trends show that crime is dropping, but in Illinois in 2006, there were 26 percent more female juveniles incarcerated than in 1996, according to the state Department of Corrections.

“Changes in enforcement mean that girls are being put away more,” said Meda Chesney-Lind, a researcher at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who studies girls in gangs.

Even if crimes that girls commit tend to be less violent than those of boys, sentencing has gotten more severe, Chesney-Lind said.

“If a girl runs away and she comes back home, her family could call her in on burglary,” she said.

Most girls that get in trouble have a history of trauma or abuse, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Experts like Chesney-Lind say that girls in juvenile facilities need trauma-informed treatment that consider histories of abuse.