Witness to a Reprehensible and Uncaring Prison System

(from Joe Power-Drutis)

Hello, 
Twenty four hours ago I visited Sr. Jackie Hudson at the Blount County Correctional Facility in Maryville Tennessee, and the information she conveyed was deeply disturbing. By bravely speaking the truth about a reprehensible and uncaring system, Jackie chose to take a personal risk and I want to honor this by passing her message on to you.

This is an account of the struggles of four inmates and their attempts to receive basic medical care.

First is the indomitable and quick-witted (soon to be 84), Jean Gump. Like Bix, Jean’s age and physical presence conceal an interior spirit deeply rooted in the power of love that will always be underestimated by the dark forces so prevalent in our world.

She, like the others, would rather be home with family and friends but is not afraid to pay the price of following the dictates of her conscience. She like the others, consented to going to jail; but, expects these places of confinement to follow the law regarding human rights and rules of imprisonment. But, in the Blount County Correctional Facility, expectations and reality part ways.

Jean is a relatively healthy woman who has obviously taken care of herself; however, she is also under the care of a Nurse Practitioner in Portage Michigan. Jean has been diagnosed with hypertension and carotid artery disease; in other words, the high pressure in her arteries is further complicated by the narrowing of the large carotid artery that feeds her brain. Jean must take one anticoagulant and 2 blood pressure medications to thin her blood and lower her pressure. Failure to do so puts her at high risk for a stroke.

For these chronic conditions she has faithfully taken her medications each day – each day that is until she was remanded to the Blount County Correctional Facility. Though she has made numerous requests for help, she has received no medical assistance, not once has her blood pressure been taken, and she received no medication for nearly 2 weeks. She filled out paperwork for the jail to notify her husband, health care provider and pharmacy; they have received no calls from the jail.

Just for the record, Ralph Hutchison, Erik Johnson and I sang one verse of a less than spectacular barber shop quartet Happy Birthday to You. Moved beyond herself by emotion Jean said, “Don’t give up your day job boys.”
The reality is much the same for 63-year-old Sr. Carol Gilbert. Carol has taken an antihypertensive medication for many years. She too has gone without her medication and no one at the jail has taken her blood pressure.

Three months ago, 76-year-old Sr. Jackie Hudson underwent surgery that left her with residual periodic left-sided chest pain. Several days ago she began to experience severe musculoskeletal pain and made repeated requests for medical assistance. Eventually a nurse arrived and said “Your just one of 500 people here and I am way behind in my work.” Jackie received nothing. That night, many hours after the onset of pain, the night nurse provided her with 2 tabs of Tylenol. Well after this acute onset of pain she was able to receive a “one time” packet of 20 tablets of Tylenol and Ibuprofen due to her indigent status; but was informed she would receive no more. Jackie also suffers from asthma. She was able to take one of her inhalers in with her but is without the needed second one. Jackie also filled out paperwork for the jail to notify Sue Ablao, her health care provider and pharmacy; they also have not received any calls from the jail.

75-year-old Sr. Ardeth Platte is also under the care of a doctor. I do not know the extent of her medical needs but, like Jackie and Jean, Ardeth is receiving no medications or health care.

Though serious, the above matters are straight-forward and easily resolved.
The following is not so.

A woman in the jail experienced a Grand Mal Seizure. Apparently in the early stages of the seizure she was able to tell other inmates a seizure was about to occur, and as the seizure commenced and she was falling they were able to catch her and guide her to the concrete floor.

They called for medical help and the nurse and another woman arrived and stood next to the woman. Several minutes later – while the seizure was still in progress – a half-dozen large men entered the cell block. While a younger guard began yelling at all of the inmates “return to your cells” another of the men kicked the woman repeatedly. Later, inmates reported that kicking a person undergoing a seizure was commonplace, “They think someone is faking it.”

The following day the woman began to experience similar symptoms that occur prior to a seizure and she related to the inmates that another seizure may occur. The inmates called for assistance and a voice over the intercom instructed the inmates to put her on the concrete floor. No staff person, medical or otherwise ever responded. Fortunately the woman’s premonitions did not result in a seizure.

Complicating the health picture even more, the inmates know that, if a medical problem or emergency occurs during the weekend, they are out of luck. No nursing staff are available during the weekend. During weekends, either non medical, non licensed jailers perform nursing duties or inmates get no response at all.

As a LPN I have worked in a number of medical venues over the past 35 years and I have seen nothing to compare with this. How did this high risk, cruel “medical response” become commonplace? These standard operational procedures are not only inhumane; they are illegal.
I wish to share this with you, as I seek guidance and support from leaders in the local community here in East Tennessee about where to go from here.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Epilogue: As I was being given this information yesterday, prison eyes (cameras) and ears (phone surveillance) were upon us; as we spoke between a wall of glass, I wrote down each detail.

It is important to remember that the playground bully is one filled with fear, and the need to control; but, knowing he/she must be careful to protect themselves from the truth.

I just received phone calls from Joe Gump and Sue Ablao; someone from the Blount County Correctional Facility phoned them today inquiring as to what medications Jean and Jackie were on. They were told that Jean and Jackie’s prescriptions will be filled by day’s end and they will be receiving all of their prescribed medications no later than tomorrow, May 23rd.

Bill Prohibiting Shackling Inmates During Childbirth Unanimously Passes Both Houses

Fri, 05/13/2011
ACLU Nevada

Assembly Bill 408, which prohibits the use of restraints on Nevada female prisoners during labor, delivery, or childbirth recuperation unless the prisoner is a “serious and immediate threat of harm” to herself or others, or a “substantial flight risk,” has now passed both houses of the Nevada legislature.

The bill unanimously passed the Nevada State Senate, 21-0, on Wednesday, May 11, 2011, after having unanimously passed the Nevada State Assembly, 42-0, on April 25. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval during the week of May 16, 2011.

“This is a tremendous step forward for the Nevada Department of Corrections and all residents, especially the women, of Nevada,” said Dane S. Claussen, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. “But we also still have a lot of work to do with Nevada’s prisons.”

The ACLU of Nevada, in its lobbying during the 2011 legislature, made AB408 a high priority. ACLU staff members testified on the bill, met with legislators individually, and monitored it closely through committee hearings and votes.

In Mothers Behind Bars, a 2010 study by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights at the National Women’s Law Center, Nevada was given a composite grade of “F+” for its treatment of women prisoners. This included a “D” for shackling policies, an “F” for prenatal care, and an “F” for family-based treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Nevada also was given an “F” for prison nurseries. On shackling in particular, Nevada was cited by the Mothers Behind Bars study for lacking a statute prohibiting restraints, the Department of Corrections not having a policy limiting use of restraints, and having no consequences for individuals or institutions when use of restraints was unjustified.

The ACLU of Nevada released a report earlier this year, Not Fit for Human Consumption or Habitation: Nevada’s Prisons in Crisis, documenting instances of shackled pregnant prisoners. The report also documented problems in prisons’ food handling areas and staffs, problems with food itself, unsanitary medical services areas, lack of supplies to keep common areas and individual cells clean, severely inadequate dental care, severely inadequate medical care, severely inadequate mental health care, inadequate exercise opportunities, and inadequate accommodations for disabled inmates. The report charged NDOC with violating its own rules, state law, and international human rights law, and also made numerous recommendations, including that Nevada adopt a law preventing the shackling of pregnant inmates.

Nevada gets F in treatment of pregnant inmates

SANDRA CHEREB • Associated Press Writer • October 21, 2010

Reno Gazette Journal

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – The state received a failing grade for its treatment of inmate mothers and pregnant women in a new report issued Thursday, but a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections took exception to the findings, and the report itself suggested at least some of the criticism was based not on state practices but the lack of a written policy.

The 50-state survey released by the National Women’s Law Center and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights analyzed state and federal prison policies on three criteria: prenatal care, use of shackles, and alternatives to incarceration for pregnant women and mothers with young children. Nevada received an overall grade of F and was among 21 states to receive a grade of D or lower.

Only one state, Pennsylvania, received an A.

Nevada received a failing grade for prenatal care and lack of family-based treatment programs for nonviolent inmates who are mothers, and a D for use of restraints on pregnant women.

“Too many women in prison fail to receive adequate prenatal care, are shackled during childbirth and don’t have the option of family based drug treatment programs that would allow them to be with their children,” Jill C. Morrison, senior counsel with the National Women’s Law Center and co-author of the study, said in a written statement.

“It’s shameful that so many states fail to have laws and policies to protect this vulnerable population of unseen and largely forgotten women,” she said.

Suzanne Pardee, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said prenatal care is provided as soon as an inmate’s pregnancy becomes known.

Nevada currently has 916 female inmates. There were 24 pregnant inmates in 2009, and 25 so far this year, she said.

Read more here.

Marie Mason at Carswell, TX, in rumored CMU

As of August 6, 2010, Marie Mason is at the federal prison in Carswell, Texas.

It has long been rumored that Carswell is the location a third CMU (Communications Management Unit). The CMUs were previously secret detention wings of prisons which severely curtail prisoners’ access to the outside world; for more on them, see: http://www.supportdaniel.org/cmu/

Please write to Mason:

Marie Mason #04672-061
FMC Carswell
Federal Medical Center
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

Marie Mason is serving almost 22 years for two acts of environmentally-motivated property destruction in which no one was harmed. This is the longest current sentence of any of the Green Scare prisoners. (The Green Scare is the name given to the recent prosecution of eco-saboteurs and animal liberation activists, in which the government has labeled them as “terrorists” and sought huge sentences.) Mason was turned in by her then-husband, Frank Ambrose, who had secretly spied on activists for years and then filed for divorce the day she was arrested. Mason eventually plead guilty to 14 actions; 13 were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and one by the Animal Liberation Front. At her sentencing, the judge said she had “violated the marketplace of ideas” and gave her an even longer sentence than the prosecution had asked for (15-20 years).

More information on Mason is available at www.supportmariemason.org.

Cruel But Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons, An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn

From: Monthly Review
August 5, 2010
by Susie Day

Marilyn Buck died on 3 August 2010, less than a month after her release from federal prison. The interview below was first published in the July-August 2010 issue of Monthly Review. — Ed.

After years of neglect, the issue of women in prison has begun to receive attention in this country. Media accounts of overcrowding, lengthening sentences, and horrendous medical care in women’s prisons appear regularly. Amnesty International — long known for ignoring human rights abuses inside United States prisons and jails — issued a report, two days shy of International Women’s Day 2001, documenting over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of U.S. women prisoners by their jailers. However, we seldom hear from these women themselves. And we never hear from women incarcerated for their political actions.

Here are the voices and observations of two women political prisoners. Laura Whitehorn, released in 1999, served over fourteen years behind bars for a series of property bombings, including one of the U.S. Capitol building, to protest police brutality and U.S. foreign policy (the “Resistance Conspiracy” case). Marilyn Buck, Laura’s friend and codefendant, was also convicted for her alleged role in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, and a number of armored car expropriations in support of the Black Liberation Army. She is serving a total sentence of eighty years and remains in the Dublin California Federal Correctional Facility. (Her codefendants on that case include Dr. Mutulu Shakur and Sekou Odinga, both also incarcerated in federal prisons.)

While it was possible to talk to Laura at length about her time behind bars, Marilyn was able only to make four long-distance phone calls, each summarily cut off by the prison after fifteen minutes. After reading Marilyn’s words — and having known and lived beside Marilyn for years in prison — Laura added to what Marilyn wasn’t able to say, as well as expressing her own experience and recollections.

SD: You both were arrested and imprisoned in 1985. How have prison conditions around you changed over those years?

MB: They’ve become much more repressive, particularly since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Each year, there’s been slippage. And certainly Clinton played a big role with the Anti-Terrorism Act, which further limited people’s legal rights.

The balance of who is in prison has also changed. There’s a much higher percentage of blacks and Latinos, and — at least in the Federal system — an enormous number of immigrants. Not just immigrants but foreign nationals, who’ve been arrested for incidents in crossing borders. People are detained for years without ever being given any kind of judicial decision.

LW: I think it’s typical of Marilyn not to complain in an interview about her own conditions. When we look at the two million people now in the federal and state systems, the proportion of women in those numbers has gone way up. What that means to someone like Marilyn is tremendous overcrowding: you’re living the rest of your life in a tiny cell that was built for one person and now houses three. It means you have no property, because there’s no room. Little by little, they took away any clothing that was sent to you, and put down much more stringent requirements. It means that you have no desk. Marilyn Buck, like many prisoners who fight very hard to get an education, has to sit on a cot and write on her lap. The overcrowding means that people are treated like problems and like baggage.

The other thing is the federal conspiracy laws, which are particularly pernicious for women. In 1985, when people heard that I was facing thirty-three years, they were astounded. That seemed like so much time. In 1990, when I ended up with twenty-three years, people were less astounded, because the laws had changed and sentences were much longer. By then, my cellmate had a twenty-four-year sentence on a first offense. This was a drug conspiracy case where it was really her husband who had run this drug ring, and she was swept up in the indictment. Or there’s our friend Danielle, who has a triple-life sentence for another drug conspiracy — her crime was basically refusing to testify against her husband. We found many more women with those kinds of sentences.

SD: How do you think these last fifteen years have affected you, personally?

MB: Imagine yourself in a relationship with an abuser who controls your every move, keeps you locked in the house. There’s the ever-present threat of violence or further repression if you don’t toe the line. I think that’s a fairly good analogy of what happens. And imagine being there for fifteen years.

To be punished, to be absolutely controlled, whether it’s about buttoning your shirt; how you have a scarf on your head; how long or how baggy your pants are — all of those things are under scrutiny. It’s hard to give a clinical picture of what they do, because how do you know, when you’re the target, or the victim, what that does to you? But there’s a difference between being a target and being a victim.

LW: The largest proportion of guards in federal women’s prisons are men. That’s who’s in your living unit. That’s who’s looking through the window in your door when you might be using the bathroom or changing your clothes. There’s the total loss of ability to defend your person.

For me, the hardest part was the pat-searches. In the federal system, it’s legal for male guards to pat-search women prisoners. That means they stand behind you and run their hands all over your body. The point is not to locate contraband; it’s to reduce you to a completely powerless person. If I had pushed a guard’s hands away they would have sent me to the hole for assault. In fact, that did happen once. It reduces you to an object, not worthy of being defended. The message is, “your body is meaningless, why don’t you want this man to put his hands all over you?” Very, very deeply damaging.

Marilyn talks about being “a target or a victim.” She makes a distinction. That’s really important because the struggle inside prison is to refuse to be victimized. Once you allow yourself to be a victim, you lose your ability to stand up and say, “I’m a person; I’m not a piece of garbage.”

But over the years, when you have to put up with that again and again, you avoid situations because you just don’t want to go through it. You have to exert an enormous amount of psychic energy to remove yourself from the situation, where this guy’s running his hands over your body. You end up exhausted at the end of the day, and your nerves are shot. Your only life is resisting these situations.

SD: Is there a portrait of a typical woman prisoner you could draw?

MB: No, except in the broadest strokes. Typically, she’s a woman of color. When she first comes to prison, she’s twenty-three to twenty-four years old. Probably the median age of women here is thirty-five to thirty-six, which is much older than it used to be because women stay in prison much longer. Presently, in this particular institution, over 50 percent of the women are Latin American, a large percentage of that, Mexican. You could also say — and this is not news — a lot of the women here come from abusive relationships, whether parents or husbands. . . . If you look at the statistics, it says up to 80 percent.

LW: I would also say that a huge number of the women are mothers. It means that, on the outside, there are basically a lot of orphans. I consider the prison system today to be a form of genocide. Prison has been used against third-world populations inside the United States, in particular African-American and Latino populations. These women are very young when they come to prison. They have sentences that will go through their childbearing years. Their children are either farmed out to relatives, or they become wards of the state. It means that the women, who would form some sort of collective bond when there’s a need for struggle, are gone from the community. And it means that their children may well go to prison themselves. Those of us who grew up with mothers have complaints that we didn’t get enough love. What does it mean to have your mother in prison?

One thing that would strike me whenever people came in from the outside for something like an AIDS health fair — we fought very hard to have those fairs — is that these straight, middle-America types would be sweating bullets, they were so scared. And they would be so expansive and warm when they left. They would say, “My picture of you all was so wrong. I pictured these killers with knives in their teeth, and I find you’re just like my neighbors.”

If you look at the number of women in prison, some of us are your neighbors. I don’t care where you live. People who read Monthly Review: your neighbors are in prison, OK? I must have met thousands and thousands of women over almost fifteen years, and I would have to say that, of the women I met, there are probably ten or fifteen who, in a socialist society, would need to be in prison.

SD: Do women ever get “better” after they go to prison?

MB: Sometimes. I think there’s the possibility of coming to terms with the fact that you were abused. Basically, you have two things happening. One is that you have this potential, because you’re not running around, doing the things you had to do as a mother, a wife, a partner, or as someone who had to go to work. When that daily activity stops, then the potential exists to discover a sense of independence.

The other side is that we’re in a situation where we’re absolutely controlled. That sort of enhances another abusive relationship. It can limit your imagination and shut you down. So a lot of women become more creative here, in terms of arts and crafts, but it doesn’t necessarily open them to their potential as human beings.

LW: Also, a lot of women who have been in abusive relationships get into lesbian relationships. And one of the things the chaplains do is preach against homosexuality, because they’re terrified of it. I was once in a prison where there was a progressive chaplain who told other chaplains that for a lot of the women, these relationships were the first time someone looked at them and saw beauty and not something to be used and abused. There were also some horrible lesbian relationships that were a recreation of the worst in straight relationships.

Can we talk about medical care? The women are getting older. A lot of women in prison are going through menopause. Many have gynecological problems. I had surgery when I was in prison. There you are: you’re bleeding; you’ve had surgery a few hours before. You’re strip-searched, shackled, chained, and you have to walk back to a van. If you’re lucky they’ll have a wheelchair for you to take you back to your unit.

I now work at POZ magazine, and a woman in Danbury Prison wrote a column for the magazine. She has HIV and goes to the male gynecologist to be told that she needs surgery on her cervix. She says to him, “I have to be completely sedated for this operation.” And he says, “No you don’t.” And she says, “Yes, I do. I have a history of sexual abuse and I have a panic attack when I have to lie on my back with my legs spread open and chained in front of strangers.”

And he laughs at her. He tells her, “Well, then, we can’t do the surgery.” And she writes, “I hate my doctor. And that’s a problem. For me, but not for him.” That’s so profound. That relationship of being “cared for” by someone who sees you as their enemy is completely deleterious to your health.

I hope everyone who reads this article is familiar with the medical crisis in the California Women’s prison at Chowchilla. “Health care” there is left to the guards: they are trained as low level EMT’s and they do the first stage of triage, deciding whether a woman should be seen by a doctor or not. Seventeen women died in that prison last year alone and independent investigations concluded that medical incompetence or refusal of medical attention contributed to the deaths.

The other thing I saw so much in women was the further erosion of already-low self-esteem. What does it do to you to have to go stand in line and get a man’s attention and ask him for sanitary napkins and then be asked, “Didn’t you ask me for some yesterday?”

SD: How do you deal with the deaths of family and friends while you’re in prison?

MB: My mother died about six weeks ago. She became ill in September, so I went through a phase of real guilt that I wasn’t there. And real sorrow and real anger. I think I’ve looked at the guilt a little more. I just couldn’t be there. But the sorrow of not being able to hold my mother’s little bird hand by the time she was starving to death from the cancer … just breaks my heart. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

I could intellectualize it. I could have been on a ship halfway around the world, and we got stuck in the trade winds and couldn’t get there in time. But I’m an extreme realist and understand who I am as a political prisoner. I knew that I would not be allowed to go to her bedside, nor to her funeral. That was just the reality. She died on a Sunday. And she was buried on my birthday. So it’s just all very hard.

I talked to my mother every week I could. And she came to visit me once a year. It was hard for her to get here. My mom was seventy-four. She had to drive a long way and go through all the emotional turmoil that you can’t avoid when you see somebody you can’t do anything for. So I had to look at her anger, too.

In a certain way, I want to be able to lie on the floor and bang my heels and cry and scream, but that just hurts my heels… So what can I say? I’m having a hard time. I’m having a very, very hard time. I . . . you know, it’s grief. But it’s grief under dire conditions. I’ll always miss my mother.

LW: One of the hardest things about being in prison is losing somebody you love and being unable to be there with them while they’re dying, or go to the memorial service afterwards. Being in prison through some of the worst years of the AIDS epidemic meant that I lost friends, both on the outside and the inside, very dear women who were among the best friends I’ve ever had in life.

My father died while I was in prison. I was very fortunate that there was a chaplain who allowed me to phone him twice while he was in the intensive care unit. It’s just an emblem of how families are destroyed by prison — the fact that Marilyn was not permitted to go; that I was not permitted to go to my father’s funeral; that there was no question of ever being permitted to go.

SD: What kinds of internal resources have you developed to deal with these years in prison?

MB: For me, the main thing is that I recognized, after the first five years of being imprisoned and on trial a lot, that one tends to build one’s walls. Which means that you begin to censor yourself, so that they can’t censor you.

I censored how I spoke to people, how I interacted. It goes in tandem with, “If I button my shirt the way they want, they won’t attack me for not buttoning my shirt properly.” In some ways, I found myself trying to be a “good girl,” because then maybe they’d see I wasn’t a “bad girl.”

When I got a handle on what I was doing, I was horrified, because how can you be a women’s liberationist and worry about being a good girl or a bad girl? What I believed in my gut was being turned inside out by my actual life. And it made me understand a lot more about how any woman — it doesn’t matter who you are or what you think — can get in a relationship with another person — generally a man, but not always — who can become your abuser, your owner.

So once I could begin to see that, I tried to find ways to tear down my walls, to protect myself less. It’s always a risk, because when you open a door, you don’t know what’s going to come in, or what’s going to go out. And everyone is needy in prison. When you’re a prisoner, you’re needy. It’s emotionally, psychologically devastating. But I felt like, if I didn’t take that risk, that I was going to smother the essence of who I was.

What I do is that I write. I write poems. Over the years I’ve moved from being a rhetorical, frozen writer to try to put out more of who I am, and how I feel. . . . I think that ultimately, if we want human liberation, we have to be able to be honest with ourselves and other people about our desires, our resentments, as we say these days, our “issues.”

So I look to that as a little flame before my face. I can’t say I’m there. But I can at least keep that in my mind.

LW: I think the hardest thing to maintain over the years, for me, was my sense of outrage. After a while, your heart hurts so continually, you begin to build a sort of padding around it. For example, one of the hardest things for me in prison was at the end of the visiting period, when you see children being led away from their mothers and they don’t understand, especially the little ones are just screaming and crying. I got to a point where I would try to leave my visits early because I couldn’t stand that any more.

I really started to disrespect myself for that. I felt like, the mother’s going through it, how do you get the right to remove yourself from it? I think from that, I understood something of why people don’t want to know about prisons, because it’s too hard; there’s something so painful about seeing a woman being removed from her baby. A woman who gives birth in most U.S. prisons gets somewhere between eight and twenty-four hours before she is taken back to the prison and separated from the infant.

When people say, “God, how did you survive prison?” I think the way I did it was by touching the lives and being touched by the lives of women around me. I mean, I was in prison with women who had been raped repeatedly by a stepfather when they were between seven and eleven, who had to go through pat-searches every day, through shakedowns where some man comes in your cell and paws through your underwear. They would call home and find out that their daughter, who was thirteen, was again being abused by that same stepfather, who was back in the picture. They had to deal with the most intense levels of abuse, and yet were able to stand up through it, were able to survive.

I learned early on how people can communicate with each other on a really deep level without having to give up their own personal strength. I learned how to get emotional sustenance from the women around me and how to try to give some to them. That’s the main thing I learned from prison. And it was easy for me because I knew I had a release date. For someone like Marilyn, or our friend Danielle, finding the strength to survive is an enormous job.

SD: What reactions do you get as a political person from other prisoners?

MB: Most people don’t know my politics specifically. As I get older and tireder, and more beaten down by being in prison, I’m not out there as much with the population. I don’t go to the dining room very much. I’m too tired to do that. So less and less, people know me.

But some people do understand my politics. You know, one woman who’s twenty-two years old just left. A young black woman, we talked sometimes, and I have been supportive and critical of her in a couple of situations. When she left, she said, “Thank you. You helped me a lot.”

So, to me, what your politics are in the abstract don’t mean a damn; it’s how you practice them. For myself as a white woman, I ask, how do you treat people; how do people receive you as a human being? Are people abstractions to you, in terms of racism? Or do you treat people as real equals, even given all the issues of privilege? Because they exist in prison, too.

Sometimes I’m treated differently by the administration. I know that my mail gets opened. That’s not true of everyone else. So I end up getting envelopes without any contents. Every time you say anything about it, it’s “Oh, it must be the post office.”

LW: Marilyn’s right that people knew us as political prisoners by how we dealt with people and situations every day. I remember feeling that the main impact I’d had was when I would intervene when a guard was picking on a woman, or help somebody get her privileges back when they’d been taken away unjustly. More than if I gave them a lecture on the history of something.

But Marilyn’s also way too modest. When we were in prison together, all the other women knew she represented the politics of struggles for justice, human rights, liberation. Women would always approach her for help in understanding not only incidents on the news, world affairs, but also incidents of racism and hostility among different nationalities in the prison population. She may tire of talking about it, but I know for a fact she never tires of acting on all of it, treating people with respect, making peace in difficult situations, basically doing the right thing no matter how tired she is, how long she’s had to do it.

One thing that changed while I was in prison is that there were many more women political prisoners. It was a shock to the prison system itself because they were terrified of us.

The government created a control unit. They tested it out on two of the Puerto Rican women, Lucy Rodriguez and Haydee Beltran. Then they put Alejandrina Torres and Silvia Baraldini and Susan Rosenberg in an underground unit at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lexington. It was actually a basement unit and they were supposed to be there for the rest of their sentences, which were fifty-eight and forty-three and thirty-five years. It was a big mistake because it got international attention. It was one of the first times Amnesty International got involved in the conditions of incarceration in the United States. Part of it was that they were terrified we would revolutionize the rest of the prison population.

A few years after that unit was closed down, I was in Lexington and working in the landscape crew, mowing grass, and my boss was a guard who had been assigned to that basement unit. She told me that they had been told not to speak to the prisoners there because they would brainwash them. I thought it was hysterical. I said, “You’ll see after we’ve worked together, whether I brainwash you.”

About three months later, that guard asked me, “Who’s that guy who’s the biggest mass murderer ever?” And I said, “George Bush.” Then we got into a discussion about who is a mass-murderer — someone who kills five people or a president who — ? And she says, “You know, you’re making a lot of sense, Whitehorn. Uh-oh. I am being brainwashed.”

SD: Some people say that political prisoners get more recognition and support than social prisoners. What’s your reaction to that?

MB: There’s a misconception that political prisoners always get so much support. There are some who were in prison for years before they got any support at all, except for a few people they’d worked with in the world. We could look at Mandela. All these people worked to free Mandela. What was done about all the other [African National Congress] prisoners? Probably ninety-nine out of one hundred political prisoners didn’t join the struggle to become famous.

Also political prisoners tend not to get parole. Particularly men political prisoners, they’re in isolation for years and years. There’s a lot of things we don’t get that sometimes other prisoners do get.

LW: If you want to understand prisons, you have to understand both political and social prisoners. They’re two sides of a program of repression. One is, you terrify communities and tell them the law is all-powerful and people will lose their freedom for many, many years if they transgress. The other is, you give huge sentences to anyone who says, “There are such egregious social injustices that we have to go up against the government.” You lock those people up for long periods of time, and that will prevent the rise of a new generation of leaders or activists. If you leave out one side of that equation, you’ll never understand what prisons are. You’ll think they’re just about making money, which is ridiculous.

Having said that, I think the current building of a mass movement about the prison industrial complex began with political prisoners. There is absolutely no division between supporting political prisoners and fighting for an end to the prison system. Angela Davis has been instrumental in it. Who’s she? She’s an ex-political prisoner. The people who have organized a lot of young activists in that movement are political prisoners or ex-political prisoners.

Every single political prisoner did prison work before they went to prison. We were the people who supported the Attica brothers; we were the people who were in the Midnight Special Collective back in the early ’70s in New York, which was a prison support collective. We’re not the ones who don’t think social prisoners are important.

And political prisoners often need extra support. Marilyn Buck has an eighty-year sentence and she has never been accused of actually hurting a single person. Or Teddy Jah Heath, who just died in prison. He had been convicted of a kidnapping, where a big-time drug-dealer was put in a car, driven around, talked to, and let out. No injury; no nothing. Jah did twenty-seven years in prison. After twenty-five years, he went to the parole board and was rejected. Two years later, he died in prison of colon cancer. Because his act was a political act. It was done in line with the programs of the Black Liberation Army, growing out of the Black Panther Party, to stop the drug trade in the black communities.

SD: Marilyn, what do you need from people on the outside?

MB: What I need from people is what we all need: to seize our human liberation as much as possible as women, as lesbians, as heterosexuals. To support the right of human beings to have their own nations, their own liberation, and their own justice. If we stopped police brutality; if black women and men were treated like equal human beings, that would make me feel really, really good, because I would be less dehumanized as a white person in this society. I would not be objectified as the oppressor.

I would like us to be more creative; to be the artists that we all are. I don’t want to see child prostitution. That to me is oppression in the concrete; people having to sell their children to stay alive. Or watching their children in the clutches of the police. Or a woman standing on her feet as a waitress for ten hours a day when her veins are breaking and still not be able to pay the rent and be there for her children.

I was thinking about this the other day — I think about the vision I had when I was a nineteen-year-old of justice and human rights and women’s equality. It was a wonderful vision. I think how it got implemented — how we became rigid and rhetorical within that — took away from that vision. But without a vision, you can’t go forward.

SD: Laura, now that you’re out of prison, what do you want to do?

LW: I don’t ever want to forget. That would be like putting calluses over my heart. It would be forgetting the people I owe something to. I guess the hardest thing for me about getting out was leaving so many people behind. I’ve been working in release efforts. We filed papers for clemency with Clinton for all the federal political prisoners. I try to do work for HIV+ prisoners through my job at POZ magazine. And when people ask me, “How can I support your friends who are left behind?” that makes me feel whole.

It’s made me sad that I’ve tried to interest different groups of women in supporting young women in prison on these ridiculous [drug] conspiracy cases. The “girlfriend crimes,” like Kemba Smith. There are hundreds of Kemba Smiths in the federal system. And I have been singularly unsuccessful in interesting any organized women’s groups to fight for those women.

One thing that makes prisons so criminal is that they damage people over time. I’m very damaged, and I had tons of support. I did prison work for years before I was arrested, so I knew what to expect. Nothing could really catch me off guard. Yet I find I have places in me that I don’t know how to go to, that are so filled with pain.

Especially late, in the middle of the night, when I think about some of my friends, these young women who are doing life sentences. They didn’t kill anyone. They didn’t hurt anybody. They gave a fucking message to someone, or maybe they didn’t turn their husband in, and they knew he had killed someone. They’re doing life, and they have very little chance of getting out. There’s a pain in me that I don’t know how to deal with.

You know, it’s very difficult to carry on relationships with people on the outside while you’re in prison. Your friends shield you from things because either they think you don’t want to hear about the great dinner they had the night before, or you’re going to think their problems are trivial because, after all, they’re not in prison. It damages your ability to have human relationships. And I have to say that the people I’ve seen who carry on friendships with prisoners are few and far between, and I honor them.

So I need to continue to struggle for prisoners and to win their release. And to say, it’s extremely important for people on the outside to understand what prisons are and who’s in prison and to visit them. To bring that kind of humanity into the prisons — but most of all, to bring those prisoners out, back into the communities.

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/day050810.html

Back from Exile: Marilyn Buck is free!

This is the best news I’ve had in a long while, and came to us just moments ago from Vikki Law, who wrote the book on women’s resistance in prison…today is truly a day to celebrate freedom.

Welcome Home, Marilyn. It’s about time.

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Activist, Poet, Writer, Translator, Teacher –

Former Political Prisoner Marilyn Buck Freed!!!

On July 15, 2010, Marilyn Buck was released from the federal prison medical center in Carswell, Texas. She is paroled to New York.

More news will be posted on http://marilynbuck.com/ as it becomes available.

Mother’s Day: Sentencing and the War on Drugs

 

Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet
The Issue: Sentencing and the War on Drugs
The Department of Justice found that women were over represented among low level drug offenders who were non-violent, had minimal or no prior criminal history, and were not principal figures in criminal organizations or activities, but nevertheless received sentences similar to “high level” drug offenders under the mandatory sentencing policies. From 1986 to 1996 the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased ten-fold. Nationally one in three women in prison and one in four women in jail are incarcerated for violating a drug law. (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 1997)
·  According to The Boston Globe, “nearly 26% of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for  drug crimes are first-time offenders…. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences…. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences.”
·     From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700.  (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997)
·  In 1986, 12.0% of women in prison were drug offenders. In 1991, 32.8% of women in prison were incarcerated for  drug offenses.  (Women in Prison, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. US Department of Justice, March 1994, NCJ 145321)
The Issue: Sexual Assault and Misconduct Against Women in Prison
The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners’ total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges. Some women are coerced into sex for favors such as extra
food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid punishment.   
·  Powerlessness and Humiliation
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons. In federal women’s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male.  Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches. Male correctional officials watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment
·  Retaliation and Fear
In many states guards have access to and are encouraged to review the inmates’ personal history files (this includes any  record of complaints against themselves or other prison authorities). Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue rule infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s  stay in prison if she speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration segregation.
·  Impunity 
Ineffective formal procedures, legislation and reporting capacity within US jails and prisons account for much of the  ongoing sexual abuse of women. In 1997, according to the US Justice Department only 10 prison employees in the  entire federal system were disciplined, and only 7 were prosecuted. If a prison official is found guilty, he is often simply transferred (“walked off the yard”) to another facility instead of being fired. The inmate may also be transferred. 
The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in US Prisons
Women are denied essential medical resources and treatments, especially during times of pregnancy and/or chronic and degenerative diseases.
·  Failure to refer seriously ill inmates for treatment and delays in treatment
Women inmates suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer, late-term miscarriages, and seizures have little or no access to medical attention, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. Instances of failure to deliver life-saving drugs for inmates with HIV/AIDS have also been noted.  
·  Lack of qualified personnel and resources and use of non-medical staff
There is too few staff to meet physical and mental health needs. This often results in long delays in obtaining medical attention; disrupted and poor quality treatment causing physical deterioration of prisoners with chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer; overmedication of prisoners with psychotropic drugs; and lack of mental health treatment. The use of  non-medical staff to screen requests for treatment is also common. 
·  Charges for medical attention
In violation of international standards, many prisons/jails charge inmates for medical attention, arguing that the charge deters prisoners from seeking medical attention for minor matters or because they want to avoid work. In some supermaximum prisons, where prisoners cannot work at all, the US Justice Dept. expressed concern that charging prisoners impedes their access to health care.
·  Inadequate Reproductive Health Care
In 1994, the National Institute of Corrections stated that provision of gynecological services for women in prison is inadequate.  Only half of the state prison systems surveyed offer female-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, and often entail a long wait to be seen.
·  Shackling During Pregnancy
Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is standard policy in federal prisons and in the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.
  
·  Lack of treatment for substance abuse
The gap between services available and treatment needs continues to grow. The number of prisoners with histories of drug abuse is growing, but the proportion of prisoners receiving treatment declined from 40% in 1991 to 18% in 1997.  
·  Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services
 48-88% of women inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual or physical abuse experienced prior to coming to prison.  Very few prison systems provide counseling. Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.  
The Issue: Discrimination Based On Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation
The growth in incarceration has had its greatest impact on minorities, particularly African Americans. Women are most vulnerable to different forms of discrimination, including sexual harrasment or abuse. Women that do not fit the “norm”, such as lesbians, are more succeptable to torture and abuse.
Discrimination Based on Race:
·  Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828%. (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998.) An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.  African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses. 
·  Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
·  State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders.  This eliminates the option for judges to refer first time non-violent offenders to drug treatment, counseling and education programs.  The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison.
Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American.  Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system. 
Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation:
·   Human Rights Watch has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.
·  If a woman is a lesbian, her criminal defense becomes more challenging.  Jurors in the US were polled as to what factors would make them most biased against a defendant, and perceived sexual orientation was chosen as the most likely personal characteristic to bias a juror against a defendant, three times greater than race. (National Law Journal November 2, 1998.)
·  The case of Robin Lucas depicts how sexual identity may subject a woman to further abuse or torture by a guard. She was placed in a men’s prison where male guards allowed male inmates to rape her.  The male guards taunted her about her same sex relationship, saying to her “maybe we can change your mind”.  
For more information on issues affecting women in prison and other women’s human rights issues, please visit the Women’s Human Rights Program website at www.amnestyusa.org/women or contact us at AIUSA 5 Penn Plaza-16th floor, New York, NY 10001 or at (212) 633-4292.

Mother’s Day: Prison Devalues Families

This is a very long, but appropriate, article for Mother’s Day today. It is taken from the journal “Federal Probation” which is published by the US courts, and will likely be the only “professional” source I use today. The rest of what I have for you comes from Mothers in prison and the children of the incarcerated directly.

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Families and Children

Jeremy Travis
President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice 

The “Gender Imbalance”
The Impact of Incarceration on Parent-Child Relationships
Impact of Parental Incarceration on Childhood Development
Impact by Children’s Age Group
Reconnecting with Family at the Time of Reentry
Looking Forward

AS THE NATION debates the wisdom of a fourfold increase in our incarceration rate over the past generation, one fact is clear: Prisons separate prisoners from their families. Every individual sent to prison leaves behind a network of family relationships. Prisoners are the children, parents, siblings, and kin to untold numbers of relatives who are each affected differently by a family member’s arrest, incarceration, and ultimate homecoming.

Little is known about imprisonment’s impact on these family networks. Descriptive data about the children of incarcerated parents only begin to tell the story. During the 1990s, as the nation’s prison population increased by half, the number of children who had a parent in prison also increased by half—from 1 million to 1.5 million. By the end of 2002, 1 in 45 minor children had a parent in prison (Mumola 2004).1 These children represent 2 percent of all minor children in America, and a sobering 7 percent of all African-American children (Mumola 2000). With little if any public debate, we have extended prison’s reach to include hundreds of thousands of young people who were not the prime target of the criminal justice policies that put their parents behind bars.

In the simplest human terms, prison places an indescribable burden on the relationships between these parents and their children. Incarcerated fathers and mothers must learn to cope with the loss of normal contact with their children, infrequent visits in inhospitable surroundings, and lost opportunities to contribute to their children’s development. Their children must come to terms with the reality of an absent parent, the stigma of parental imprisonment, and an altered support system that may include grandparents, foster care, or a new adult in the home. In addition, in those communities where incarceration rates are high, the experience of having a mother or father in prison is now quite commonplace, with untold consequences for foster care systems, multigenerational households, social services delivery, community norms, childhood development, and parenting patterns.

Imprisonment profoundly affects families in another, less tangible way. When young men and women are sent to prison, they are removed from the traditional rhythms of dating, courtship, marriage, and family formation. Because far more men than women are sent to prison each year, our criminal justice policies have created a “gender imbalance” (Braman 2002), a disparity in the number of available single men and women in many communities. In neighborhoods where incarceration and reentry have hit hardest, the gender imbalance is particularly striking. Young women complain about the shortage of men who are suitable marriage prospects because so many of the young men cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.

The results are an increase in female-headed households and narrowed roles for fathers in the lives of their children and men in the lives of women and families in general. As more young men grow up with fewer stable attachments to girlfriends, spouses, and intimate partners, the masculine identity is redefined. The family is often depicted as the bedrock of American society. Over the years, we have witnessed wave after wave of social policy initiatives designed to strengthen, reunite, or simply create families. Liberals and conservatives have accused each other of espousing policies that undermine “family values.”

In recent years, policymakers, foundation officers, and opinion leaders have also decried the absence of fathers from the lives of their children. These concerns have translated into a variety of programs, governmental initiatives, and foundation strategies that constitute a “fatherhood movement.” Given the iconic stature of the family in our vision of American life and the widespread consensus that the absence of father figures harms future generations, our national experiment with mass incarceration seems, at the very least, incongruent with the rhetoric behind prevailing social policies. At worst, the imprisonment of millions of individuals and the disruption of their family relationships has significantly undermined the role that families could play in promoting our social well-being.

 The institution of family plays a particularly important role in the crime policy arena. Families are an integral part of the mechanisms of informal social control that constrain antisocial behavior. The quality of family life (e.g., the presence of supportive parent-child relationships) is significant in predicting criminal delinquency (Loeber and Farrington 1998, 2001). Thus, if families suffer adverse effects from our incarceration policies, we would expect these harmful effects to be felt in the next generation, as children grow up at greater risk of engaging in delinquent and criminal behavior. The institution of marriage is another important link in the mechanism of informal social control. Marriage reduces the likelihood that ex-offenders will associate with peers involved in crime, and generally inhibits a return to crime (Laub, Nagin, and Sampson 1998).

In fact, marriage is a stronger predictor of desistance from criminal activity than simple cohabitation, and a “quality” marriage—one based on a strong mutual commitment—is an even stronger predictor (Horney, Osgood, and Marshall 1995). Thus, criminal justice policies that weaken marriage and inhibit spousal commitments are likely to undermine the natural processes of desistance, thereby causing more crime. In short, in developing crime policies, families matter. If our crime policies have harmful consequences for families, we risk undermining the role families can play in controlling criminal behavior.

This chapter examines the impact of incarceration and reentry on families. We begin by viewing the antecedents to the creation of families—the relationships between young men and young women—in communities where the rates of arrest, removal, incarceration, and reentry are particularly high. Then we discuss imprisonment’s impact on relationships between an incarcerated parent and his or her children. Next we examine the effects of parental incarceration on the early childhood and adolescent development of children left behind. We then observe the family’s role in reentry. We close with reflections on the impact of imprisonment on prisoners’ family life, ways to mitigate incarceration’s harmful effects, and ways to promote constructive connections between prisoners and their families.

The “Gender Imbalance” 

To understand the magnitude of the criminal justice system’s impact on the establishment of intimate partner relationships, we draw upon the work of Donald Braman (2002, 2004), an anthropologist who conducted a three-year ethnographic study of incarceration’s impact on communities in Washington, D.C. In the District of Columbia, 7 percent of the adult African-American male population returns to the community from jail or prison each year. According to Braman’s estimates, more than 75 percent of African-American men in the District of Columbia can expect to be incarcerated at some point during their lifetime.

One consequence of these high rates of incarceration is what Braman calls a “gender imbalance,” meaning simply that there are fewer men than women in the hardest hit communities. Half of the women in the nation’s capital live in communities with low incarceration rates. In these communities, there are about 94 men for every 100 women. For the rest of the women in D.C.—whose neighborhoods have higher incarceration rates—the ratio is about 80 men for every 100 women. Furthermore, 10 percent of the District’s women live in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates, where more than 12 percent of men are behind bars. In these neighborhoods, there are fewer than 62 men for every 100 women.

This gender imbalance translates into large numbers of fatherless families in communities with high rates of incarceration. In neighborhoods with a 2 percent male incarceration rate, Braman (2002) found that fathers were absent from more than one-half of the families. But in the communities with the highest male incarceration rates—about 12 percent—more than three-quarters of the families had a father absent. This phenomenon is not unique to Washington, D.C., however. In a national study, Sabol and Lynch (1998) also found larger numbers of female-headed families in counties receiving large numbers of returning prisoners.

Clearly, mass incarceration results in the substantial depletion in the sheer numbers of men in communities with high rates of imprisonment. For those men who are arrested, removed, and sent to prison, life in prison has profound and long-lasting consequences for their roles as intimate partners, spouses, and fathers. In the following sections, we will document those effects. Viewing this issue from a community perspective, however, reminds us that incarceration also alters the relationships between the men and women who are not incarcerated.

In her research on the marriage patterns of low-income mothers, Edin (2000) found that the decision to marry (or remarry) depends, in part, on the economic prospects, social respectability, and reliability of potential husbands—attributes that are adversely affected by imprisonment. Low marriage rates, in turn, affect the life courses of men who have been imprisoned, reducing their likelihood of desistance from criminal activity. Thus, the communities with the highest rates of incarceration are caught in what Western, Lopoo, and McLanahan (2004, 21) call the “high-crime/low-marriage equilibrium.”

In these communities, women “will be understandably averse to marriage because their potential partners bring few social or economic benefits to the table. Men, who remain unmarried or unattached to stable households, are likely to continue their criminal involvement.” Braman quotes two of his community informants to illustrate these ripple effects of the gender imbalance. “David” described how the shortage of men affected dating patterns: Oh, yeah, everybody is aware of [the male shortage]. . . . And the fact that [men] know the ratio, and they feel that the ratio allows them to take advantage of just that statistic. ‘Well, this woman I don’t want to deal with, really because there are six to seven women to every man.’ (2002, 166) The former wife of a prisoner commented that women were less discerning in their choices of partners because there were so few men: Women will settle for whatever it is that their man [wants], even though you know that man probably has about two or three women. Just to be wanted, or just to be held, or just to go out and have a date makes her feel good, so she’s willing to accept. I think now women accept a lot of things—the fact that he might have another woman or the fact that they can’t clearly get as much time as they want to. The person doesn’t spend as much time as you would [like] him to spend. The little bit of time that you get you cherish. (2002, 167)

The reach of our incarceration policies thus extends deep into community life. Even those men and women who are never arrested pay a price. As they are looking for potential partners in marriage and parenting, they find that the simple rituals of dating are darkened by the long shadow of imprisonment.

The Impact of Incarceration on Prisoner Families

The Family Profile of the Prisoner Population 

Before turning to a closer examination of the effects of imprisonment on the relationships between incarcerated parents and their children, we should first describe the family circumstances of the nation’s prisoners. In 1997, about half (47 percent) of state prisoners reported they had never been married. Only 23 percent reported they were married at the time of their incarceration, while 28 percent said they were divorced or separated (Figure 1). Yet most prisoners are parents. More than half (55 percent) of all state prisoners reported having at least one minor child. Because the overwhelming majority of state prisoners are men, incarcerated parents are predominantly male (93 percent). The number of incarcerated mothers, however, has grown dramatically in the past decade.

Between 1991 and 2000, the number of incarcerated mothers increased by 87 percent, compared with a 60 percent increase in the number of incarcerated fathers. Of the men in state prison, 55 percent have children—a total of about 1.2 million—under the age of 18. About 65 percent of women in state prison are mothers to children younger than 18; their children number about 115,500 (Mumola 2000).
A mother’s incarceration has a different impact on living arrangements than does that of a father.

Close to two-thirds (64 percent) of mothers reported living with their children before incarceration, compared with slightly less than half (44 percent) of fathers in 1997. Therefore, as the percentage of women in prison increases, more children experience a more substantial disruption. We should not conclude, however, that the imprisonment of a nonresident father has little impact on his children. Research has shown that nonresident fathers can make considerable contributions to the development and well-being of their children (Amato and Rivera 1999; Furstenberg 1993). They contribute to their children’s financial support, care, and social support even when they are not living in the children’s home (Edin and Lein 1997; Hairston 1998; Western and McLanahan 2000). Therefore, a depiction of families’ living arrangements only begins to describe the nature of the parenting roles played by fathers before they were sent to prison.

The national data on incarcerated parents also fail to capture the diversity of parent-child relationships. According to research conducted by Denise Johnston (2001) at the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, it is not uncommon for both incarcerated fathers and mothers to have children by more than one partner. Furthermore, these parents may have lived with some but not all of their children prior to their incarceration. This perspective leads to another conclusion: Individuals who are incarcerated may also have served as parent figures to children not their own—as stepparents or surrogate parents in families that blend children into one household.
We know little about the nature of these parent-child relationships. As was noted above, even absent fathers can provide emotional and financial support prior to their incarceration. However, the profiles of incarcerated parents also point to indicia of stress and dysfunction within these families.

More than three-quarters of parents in state prison reported a prior conviction and, of those, more than half had been previously incarcerated. During the time leading up to their most current arrest and incarceration, nearly half were out of prison on some type of conditional release, such as probation or parole, in 1997. Nearly half (46 percent) of incarcerated fathers were imprisoned for a violent crime, as were one-quarter (26 percent) of the mothers. Mothers in prison were much more likely than fathers to be serving time for drug offenses (35 percent versus 23 percent). Nearly one-third of the mothers reported committing their crime to get either drugs or money for drugs, compared with 19 percent of fathers. More than half of all parents in prison reported using drugs in the month before they were arrested, and more than a third were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime. Nearly a quarter of incarcerated mothers (23 percent) and about a tenth (13 percent) of incarcerated fathers reported a history of mental illness (Mumola 2000). Clearly, these individuals were struggling with multiple stressors that, at a minimum, complicated their role as parents.

The portrait of prisoners’ extended family networks is also sobering. According to findings from the Urban Institute’s Returning Home (Visher, La Vigne, and Travis 2004) study in Maryland, these networks exhibit high rates of criminal involvement, substance abuse, and family violence (La Vigne, Kachnowski, et al. 2003). In interviews conducted with a sample of men and women just prior to their release from prison and return to homes in Baltimore, the Institute’s researchers found that about 40 percent of the prisoners reported having at least one relative currently serving a prison sentence.

Nine percent of the women said they had been threatened, harassed, or physically hurt by their husband, and 65 percent of those who reported domestic violence also reported being victimized by a non-spouse intimate partner. No male respondents reported this kind of abuse. The women reported that, other than their partners, the highest level of abuse came from other women in their families—their mothers, stepmothers, or aunts. Nearly two-thirds of inmates (62 percent) reported at least one family member with a substance abuse or alcohol problem and more than 16 percent listed four or more family members with histories of substance abuse. These characteristics highlight the high levels of risks and challenges in the families prisoners leave behind.

The Strain of Incarceration on Families 

We turn next to a discussion of the impact of parental incarceration on the families left behind. One obvious consequence is that the families have fewer financial resources. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1997 most parents in state prison (71 percent) reported either full-time or part-time employment in the month preceding their current arrest (Mumola 2002). Wages or salary was the most common source of income among incarcerated fathers before imprisonment, 60 percent of whom reported having a full-time job. Mothers, on the other hand, were less likely to have a full-time job (39 percent). For them, the most common sources of income were wages (44 percent) or public assistance (42 percent). Very few mothers reported receiving formal child support payments (6 percent) (Mumola 2000).

During incarceration, the flow of financial support from the incarcerated parent’s job stops, leaving the family to either make do with less or make up the difference, thereby placing added strains on the new caregivers. Eligibility for welfare payments under the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program ceases as soon as an individual is no longer a custodial parent—i.e., upon incarceration. In some cases, a caregiver may continue to receive TANF payments when the incarcerated parent loses eligibility, but because these benefits are now “child-only,” they are lower than full TANF benefits. Food stamps are also unavailable to incarcerated individuals.

New caregivers often struggle to make ends meet during the period of parental incarceration. Bloom and Steinhart (1993) found that in 1992 nearly half (44 percent) of families caring for the children of an incarcerated parent were receiving welfare payments under TANF’s predecessor program, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). Under the recent welfare reform laws, however, TANF support is more limited than in the past, as lifetime eligibility has been capped at 60 months, work requirements have been implemented, and restrictions have been placed on TANF funds for those who have violated probation or parole, or have been convicted of certain drug crimes (Phillips and Bloom 1998).

Even under the old AFDC program, most caregivers reported that they did not have sufficient resources to meet basic needs (Bloom and Steinhart 1993). Moreover, these economic strains affect more than the family’s budget. According to several studies, financial stress can produce negative consequences for caretakers’ behavior, including harsh and inconsistent parenting patterns, which, in turn, cause emotional and behavioral problems for the children (McLoyd 1998).

Other adjustments are required as well. Because most prisoners are men, and 55 percent of them are fathers, the first wave of impact is felt by the mothers of their children. Some mothers struggle to maintain contact with the absent father, on behalf of their children as well as themselves. Others decide that the incarceration of their children’s father is a turning point, enabling them to start a new life and cut off ties with the father. More fundamentally, Furstenberg (1995) found that a partner left behind often becomes more independent and self-sufficient during the period of incarceration, changes that may ultimately benefit the family unit or lead to the dissolution of the relationship. At a minimum, however, these changes augur a significant adjustment in roles when the incarcerated partner eventually returns home.

In some cases, the incarceration period can have another, longer-lasting effect on the legal relationships between parents and children. In 1997, Congress enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) to improve the safety and well-being of children in the foster care system as well as to remove barriers to the permanent placement, particularly adoption, of these children.2 The ASFA stipulates that “permanency” decisions (determinations about a child’s ultimate placement) should be made within 12 months of the initial removal of the child from the home. With limited exceptions, foster care placements can last no longer than 15 months, and if a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the previous 22 months, petitions must be filed in court to terminate parental rights. At least half the states now include incarceration as a reason to terminate parental rights (Genty 2001).

This new legislation has far-reaching consequences for the children of incarcerated parents. According to BJS, 10 percent of mothers in prison, and 2 percent of fathers, have at least one child in foster care (Mumola 2000). Because the average length of time served for prisoners released in 1997 was 28 months (Sabol and Lynch 2001), the short timelines set forth in ASFA establish a legal predicate that could lead to increases in the termination of parental rights for parents in prison (Lynch and Sabol 2001). Philip Genty (2001), a professor at Columbia University Law School, made some rough calculations of ASFA’s impact. Looking only at reported cases discoverable through a Lexis search, he found, in the five years following ASFA’s enactment, a 250 percent increase in cases terminating parental rights due to parental incarceration, from 260 to 909 cases.

In addition to those legal burdens placed on incarcerated parents, the new family care-givers face challenges in forging relationships with the children left behind. Some of these new caregivers may not have had much contact with the children before the parent’s incarceration, so they must establish themselves as de facto parents and develop relationships with the children. Contributing to the trauma of this changing family structure, prisoners’ children are sometimes separated from their siblings during incarceration because the new network of caregivers cannot care for the entire sibling group (Hairston 1995).

In short, when the prison gates close and parents are separated from their children, the network of care undergoes a profound realignment. Even two-parent families experience the strain of lost income, feel the remaining parent’s sudden sole responsibility for the children and the household, and suffer the stigma associated with imprisonment. However, prisoners’ family structures rarely conform to the two-parent model and are more often characterized by nonresident fathers, children living with different parents, and female-headed households. In these circumstances, the ripple effects of a mother or father going to prison reach much farther, and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the foster care system must step into the breach. In addition, these extended networks feel the financial, emotional, and familial weight of their new responsibilities.

Incarceration has yet one more effect on the structure of prisoners’ families. One of the important functions that families perform is to create assets that are passed along to the next generation. These assets are sometimes quite tangible: Money is saved, real estate appreciates in value, and businesses are built. These tangible assets can typically be transferred to one’s children. Sometimes the assets are intangible: Social status is achieved, professional networks are cultivated, and educational milestones are reached. These intangible assets can also translate into economic advantage by opening doors for the next generation. Braman asks whether the minimal intergenerational transfer of wealth in black families is related to the high rates of incarceration among black men. Taking a historical view, he concludes:

The disproportionate incarceration of black men…helps to explain why black families are less able to save money and why each successive generation inherits less wealth than their white counterparts. Incarceration acts like a hidden tax, one that is visited disproportionately on poor and minority families; and while its costs are most directly felt by the adults closest to the incarcerated family member, the full effect is eventually felt by the next generation as well. (2004, 156)

The ripple effects of incarceration on the family are far-reaching. The gender imbalance disturbs the development of intimate relationships that might support healthy families. Families’ financial resources and relationship capabilities are strained at the same time they are scrambling for more assets to support their incarcerated loved one. Yet, despite the hardships of incarceration, families can play an important role in improving outcomes for prisoners and prisoners’ children. Several studies have shown that the “quality of care children receive following separation and their ongoing relationships with parents” are “instrumental forces in shaping outcomes for children” (Hairston 1999, 205). According to one study (Sack 1977), the behavioral problems displayed by children of incarcerated fathers diminished once the children got to spend time with their fathers.

On the other hand, in a small percentage of cases, continued parental involvement may not be in the child’s best interests. For example, BJS (Greenfeld et al. 1998) reports that 7 percent of prisoners convicted of violent crimes were convicted of intimate partner violence. Even more disturbing are those cases involving child abuse and neglect, where the child’s best interests argue against parental involvement. According to BJS, among inmates who were in prison for a sex crime against a child, the child was the prisoner’s own child or stepchild in a third of the cases (Langan, Schmitt, and Durose 2003). Yet there has been very little research on the nexus between this form of family violence, incarceration, and reentry.

Discussion of prisoners convicted of violence within the family only raises larger questions—questions not answered by current research—about whether some parent-child relationships are so troubled and so characterized by the patterns of parental substance abuse, criminal involvement, mental illness, and the intrusions of criminal justice supervision that parental removal is a net benefit for the child. It is undoubtedly true that removing a parent involved in certain types of child abuse is better for the child. But we know little about the critical characteristics of the pre-prison relationships between children and their incarcerated parents, especially as to what kind of parents they were, and how their removal affects their children.

Even without a deeper understanding of the parenting roles played by America’s prisoners, we still must face several incontrovertible, troubling facts. First, expanding the use of prison to respond to crime has put more parents in prison. Between 1991 and 1999, a short eight-year period, the number of parents in state and federal prisons increased by 60 percent, from 452,500 to 721,500 (Mumola 2000). By the end of 2002, 3.7 million parents were under some form of correctional supervision (Mumola 2004). Second, many children are left behind when parents are incarcerated. By 1999, 2 percent of all minor children in the United States—about 1.5 million—had a parent in state or federal prison. (If we include parents who are in jail, on probation or parole, or recently released from prison, the estimate of children with a parent involved in the criminal justice system reaches 7 million, or nearly 10 percent of all minor children in America [Mumola 2000].) Third, the racial disparities in America’s prison population translate into substantial, disturbing racial inequities in the population of children affected by our current levels of imprisonment. About 7 percent of all African-American minor children and nearly 3 percent of all Hispanic minor children in America have a parent in prison. In comparison, barely 1 percent of all Caucasian minor children have a parent in prison (Mumola 2000). Finally, most of the children left behind are quite young. Sixty percent are under age 10, while the average child left behind is 8 years old.

In this era of mass incarceration, our criminal justice system casts a wide net that has altered the lives of millions of children, disrupting their relationships with their parents, altering the networks of familial support, and placing new burdens on such governmental services as schools, foster care, adoption agencies, and youth-serving organizations. As Phillips and Bloom succinctly concluded, “by getting tough on crime, the United States has gotten tough on children” (1998, 539). These costs are rarely included in our calculations of the costs of justice.

Parent-Child Relationships during Imprisonment
When a parent is arrested and later incarcerated, the child’s world undergoes significant, sometimes traumatic, disruption. Most children are not present at the time of their parent’s arrest, and arrested parents typically do not tell the police that they have minor children ( ABA 1993). Family members are often reluctant to tell the children that their parent has been incarcerated because of social stigma (Braman 2003). Therefore, the immediate impact of an arrest can be quite traumatizing—a child is abruptly separated from his or her parent, with little information about what happened, why it happened, or what to expect.

The arrest and subsequent imprisonment of a parent frequently results in a significant realignment of the family’s arrangements for caring for the child, depicted in Figure 2. Not surprisingly, the nature of the new living arrangements depends heavily on which parent is sent to prison. Recall that about two-thirds of incarcerated mothers in state prison lived with their children before they were imprisoned. Following the mother’s incarceration, about a quarter (28 percent) of their children remain with their fathers. Most children of incarcerated mothers, however, are cared for by an extended family that is suddenly responsible for another mouth to feed and child to raise. More than half of these children (53 percent) will live with a grandparent, adding burdens to a generation that supposedly has already completed its child-rearing responsibilities. Another quarter of these children (26 percent) will live with another relative, placing new duties on the extended family. Some children have no familial safety net: almost 10 percent of incarcerated mothers reported that their child was placed in foster care (Mumola 2000).3

The story for incarcerated fathers is quite different. Less than half (44 percent) lived with their children before prison; once they are sent to prison, most of their children (85 percent) will live with the children’s mother. Grandparents (16 percent) and other relatives (6 percent) play a much smaller role in assuming child care responsibilities when a father in incarcerated. Only 2 percent of the children of incarcerated men enter the foster care system. In sum, a child whose father is sent to prison is significantly less likely to experience a life disruption, such as moving in with another family member or placement in a foster home.

The nation’s foster care system has become a child care system of last resort for many children with parents in prison. Research by the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Johnston 1999) found that, at any given time, 10 percent of children in foster care currently have a mother—and 33 percent have a father—behind bars. Even more striking, 70 percent of foster children have had a parent incarcerated at one time or another during their time in foster care.

When a parent goes to prison, the separation between parent and child is experienced at many levels. First, there is the simple fact of distance. The majority of state prisoners (62 percent) are held in facilities located more than 100 miles from their homes (Mumola 2000). Because prison facilities for women are scarce, mothers are incarcerated an average of 160 miles away from their children (Hagan and Coleman 2001). The distance between prisoners and their families is most pronounced for District of Columbia residents. As a result of the federal takeover of the District’s. prison system, defendants sentenced to serve felony time are now housed in facilities that are part of the far-flung network of federal prisons. In 2000, 12 percent of the District’s inmates were held in federal prisons more than 500 miles from Washington. By 2002, that proportion had risen to 30 percent. Nineteen percent are in prisons as far away as Texas and California (Santana 2003). Not surprisingly, in an analysis of BJS data, Hairston and Rollin (2003, 68) found a relationship between this distance and family visits: “The distance prisoners were from their homes influenced the extent to which they saw families and friends. The farther prisoners were from their homes, the higher the percentage of prisoners who had no visitors in the month preceding the survey….Those whose homes were closest to the prison had the most visits.”

Geographic distance inhibits families from making visits and, for those who make the effort, imposes an additional financial burden on already strained family budgets. Donald Braman tells the story of Lilly, a District resident whose son Anthony is incarcerated in Ohio (Braman 2002). When Anthony was held in Lorton, a prison in Virginia that formerly housed prisoners from the District, she visited him once a week. Since the federal takeover, she manages to make only monthly visits, bringing her daughter, Anthony’s sister. For each two-day trip, she spends between $150 and $200 for car rental, food, and a motel. Added to these costs are her money orders to supplement his inmate account and the care packages that she is allowed to send twice a year. She also pays about $100 a month for the collect calls he places. She lives on a fixed income of $530 a month.

Given these realities, the extent of parent-child contact during incarceration is noteworthy. Mothers in prison stay in closer contact with their children than do fathers. According to BJS, nearly 80 percent of mothers have monthly contact and 60 percent have at least weekly contact. Roughly 60 percent of fathers, by contrast, have monthly contact, and 40 percent have weekly contact with their children (Mumola 2000). These contacts take the form of letters, phone calls, and prison visits. Yet, a large percentage of prisoners serve their entire prison sentence without ever seeing their children. More than half of all mothers, and 57 percent of all fathers, never receive a personal visit from their children while in prison.

Particularly disturbing is Lynch and Sabol’s finding (2001) that the frequency of contact decreases as prison terms get longer. Between 1991 and 1997, as the length of prison sentences increased, the level of contact of all kinds—calls, letters, and visits—decreased (Figure 3). This is especially troubling in light of research showing that the average length of prison sentences is increasing in America, reflecting more stringent sentencing policies. Thus, prisoners coming home in the future are likely to have had fewer interactions with their children, a situation that further weakens family ties and makes family reunification even more difficult.

In addition to the significant burden imposed by the great distances between prisoners and their families, corrections policies often hamper efforts to maintain family ties across the prison walls. The Women’s Prison Association (1996) has identified several obstacles to constructive family contacts, some of which could easily be solved. The association found that it is difficult to get simple information on visiting procedures, and correctional administrators provide little help in making visiting arrangements. The visiting procedures themselves are often uncomfortable or humiliating. Furthermore, little attention is paid to mitigating the impact on the children of visiting a parent in prison.

Elizabeth Gaynes, director of the Osborne Association in New York City, tells a story that captures the emotional and psychological impact of a particular correctional policy upon a young girl who had come to visit her father. Because inmates were not allowed to handle money, the prison had drawn a yellow line three feet in front of the soda vending machines. Only visitors could cross that line. The father could not perform the simple act of getting his daughter a soda. If he wanted one, he had to ask his daughter to get it. According to Ms. Gaynes, this interaction represented an unnecessary and damaging role transformation; the child had become the provider, the parent had become the child.4

Family Contact during Imprisonment: Obstacles and Opportunities 

For a number of reasons, it is difficult to maintain parent-child contact during a period of incarceration. For one thing, many prisons narrowly define the family members who are granted visiting privileges. The State of Michigan’s corrections department, for example, promulgated regulations in 1995 restricting the categories of individuals who are allowed to visit a prisoner. The approved visiting list may include minor children under the age of 18, but only if they are the prisoner’s children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or siblings. Prisoners who are neither the biological parents nor legal stepparents of the children they were raising do not have this privilege. Finally, a child authorized to visit must be accompanied by either an adult who is an immediate family member of the child or of the inmate, or who is the child’s legal guardian.5 Many prisoners’ extended family networks, including girlfriends and boyfriends who are raising prisoners’ children, are not recognized in these narrow definitions of “family.”6 Limitations on visiting privileges are commonly justified on security or management grounds, but fail to recognize the complexity of the prisoner’s familial networks. Rather than allowing the prisoner to define the “family” relationships that matter most, the arbitrary distinctions of biology or legal status are superimposed on the reality of familial networks, limiting meaningful contact that could make a difference to both prisoner and child.

Telephone contact is also burdened by prison regulations and by controversial relationships between phone companies and corrections departments. Prisoners are typically limited in the number of calls they can make. Their calls can also be monitored. The California Department of Corrections interrupts each call every 20 seconds with a recorded message: “This is a call from a California prison inmate.” Most prisons allow prisoners to make only collect calls, and those calls typically cost between $1 and $3 per minute, even though most phone companies now charge less than 10 cents per minute for phone calls in the free society (Petersilia 2003). Telephone companies also charge between $1.50 and $4 just to place the collect call, while a fee is not charged for collect calls outside of prison.

The high price of collect calls reflects sweetheart arrangements between the phone companies and corrections agencies, under which the prisons receive kickbacks for every collect call, about 40 to 60 cents of every dollar. This arrangement translates into a substantial revenue source for corrections budgets. In 2001, for example, California garnered $35 million, based on $85 million of total revenue generated from prison calls. Some states require, by statute or policy, that these revenues pay for programs for inmates. Most states simply deposit this money into the general budget for their department of corrections.

Yet who bears these additional costs for maintaining phone contact with prisoners? The families of prisoners do, of course. In a study conducted by the Florida House of Representatives Corrections Committee (1998), family members reported spending an average amount of $69.19 per month accepting collect phone calls. According to this report, “Several family members surveyed stated that, although they wanted to continue to maintain contact with the inmate, they were forced to remove their names from the inmate’s approved calling list because they simply could not afford to accept the calls” (1998, 23).

This monopolistic arrangement between phone companies and prisons makes families the unwitting funders of the prisons holding their loved ones. In essence, the states have off-loaded upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars of prison costs on to prisoners’ families. Subsequently, families are placed in the unacceptable position of either agreeing to accept the calls, thereby making contributions to prison budgets, or ceasing phone contact with their loved ones. Of course, there are other, deeper costs attached to this practice. If a family chooses to limit (or stop) these phone calls, then familial ties are weakened and the support system that could sustain the prisoner’s reintegration is damaged. If the family chooses to pay the phone charges, then those financial resources are not available for other purposes, thereby adding to the strain the household experiences. In recent years, efforts to reform prison telephone policies have been successful in several states.7 Yet, while these reform efforts are under way, tens of thousands of families are setting aside large portions of their budgets to pay inflated phone bills to stay in touch with their imprisoned family members.

Fortunately, a number of communities have implemented programs designed to overcome the barriers of distance, cost, and correctional practices that reduce contact between prisoners and their families. For example, Hope House, an organization in Washington, D.C., that connects incarcerated fathers with their children in the District, hosts summer camps at federal prisons in North Carolina and Maryland where children spend several hours a day for a week visiting with their fathers in prison. Hope House has also created a teleconference hookup with federal prisons in North Carolina, Ohio, and New Mexico so that children can go to a neighborhood site to talk to their fathers in prison.

In another instance, a Florida program called “ Reading and Family Ties—Face to Face” also uses technology to overcome distance. Incarcerated mothers and their children transmit live video recordings via the Internet. These sessions occur each week, last an hour, and are available at no cost to the families. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice in 1992 initiated the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program, the first mother-daughter visitation program of its kind. Twice a month, more than 500 girls across the country, much like other girls their age, participate in Girl Scout programs, but in this program these Girl Scouts meet their mothers in prison. Finally, in Washington State, the McNeil Island Correction Center has launched a program that teaches incarcerated fathers the skills of active and involved parenting, encourages them to provide financial support for their children, and facilitates events to bring prisoners together with their families.

These programs—and many others like them—demonstrate that, with a little creativity and a fair amount of commitment, corrections agencies can find ways to foster ongoing, constructive relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. It seems particularly appropriate, in an era when technology has overcome geographical boundaries, to harness the Internet to bridge the divide between prisons and families. Yet the precondition for undertaking such initiatives is the recognition that corrections agencies must acknowledge responsibility for maintaining their prisoners’ familial relationships. If these agencies embraced this challenge for all inmates—and were held accountable to the public and elected officials for the results of these efforts—the quality of family life for prisoners and their extended family networks would be demonstrably improved.

Impact of Parental Incarceration on Childhood Development 

Limits of Existing Research 

Having examined the impact of incarceration on the institution of family and the relationships of incarcerated parents with their children, we turn next to an assessment of incarceration’s impact on the children involved. Given the current state of research, it is very difficult to measure the consequences for children when a mother or father is arrested, convicted, sent to prison, and returned home. Very few studies have been conducted that directly examine the lives of the children of incarcerated parents. Most of these studies suffer from methodological limitations in that they examine only a small sample of children or fail to use appropriate comparison groups. Few studies use standardized assessment tools to measure the emotional and psychological well-being of these children. Few researchers talk to the children themselves, relying instead on parental or caregiver opinions to construct a picture of the child’s changing world. Ideally, we could draw upon one or more longitudinal studies that assessed the children’s well-being, the nature of the parent-child relationships, and the changing family environment beginning at the parent’s arrest and continuing through the trial (when the parent may be in jail or may be released on bond), to the point of sentencing, throughout the period of incarceration (including the moment of the parent’s release from prison), ending with the dynamics of post-prison adjustment. Unfortunately, no such study exists.

The extant sparse research literature only underscores the importance of more research in this area. These studies suggest that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to exhibit low self-esteem, depression, emotional withdrawal from friends and family, and inappropriate or disruptive behavior at home and in school. Two studies, each with a very small sample size, suggested that children of incarcerated parents may be more likely than their counterparts to enter the criminal justice system (Johnston 1991, 1993).8

One way of assessing the impact of incarceration on children is to draw connections between other research and our general understanding of the collateral costs of imprisonment. For example, several studies have found that children of young and unmarried parents experience behavioral problems, unstable family relationships, and diminished economic support (Amato and Rivera 1999; Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999; Kandel, Rosenbaum, and Chen 1994; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994; Michael and Tuma 1985; Thornberry, Smith, and Howard 1997; Wu and Martinson 1993).

Similarly, economic strain can lead to harsh and inconsistent parenting, which can lead to behavioral problems in the children in the household (McLoyd 1998). Reduced financial resources can also lead to increased exposure to abuse in the family (International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies 2003).9 Finally, children in single-parent households, particularly those born to single mothers, have higher rates of incarceration as they grow up. Indeed, as Harper and McLanahan (1999) have found, children growing up with stepparents have still higher rates of incarceration. So, to the extent that incarceration increases economic strain, the number of single-parent households, and absent fathers, then our imprisonment policies are likely to result in more developmental challenges and criminal justice involvement for the children left behind.

Understanding Parental Loss 

We can also draw upon the general literature exploring how parental loss affects child development to create some hypotheses about the impact of parental incarceration. According to this literature, children always experience the loss of a parent as a traumatic event. Whether the loss is due to death, divorce, moving away, or incarceration, this event has negative consequences, including attachment difficulties, anger, depression, regression, and other antisocial behaviors. Similarly, a traumatic event in a child’s life diverts energy from the developmental work that child is normally performing.

When life becomes overwhelming for a child, emotional survival may take precedence over developmental tasks, resulting in delayed development, regression, or other maladaptive coping strategies (Wright and Seymour 2000). Given these general principles of child development, parental incarceration should be viewed as a traumatic event, limiting the child’s emotional growth, producing stress and anger, and isolating the child from needed social supports.

It is also well documented in the child development literature that children have difficulty coping with uncertainty. The criminal justice process is filled with uncertainty. A child might have to live with such questions as, “Will Mom be arrested again?” “Will Dad be convicted and, if so, sent to prison? If so, how long will he be there?” “Will Mom get released on parole? If so, will she be sent back to prison if she uses drugs again, or if she is in the wrong place at the wrong time?” This uncertainty, which is inherent in the workings of our criminal justice system, is often compounded by the family’s reluctance to tell children exactly what is happening to their parents. In his ethnographic study in Washington, D.C., Braman (2002) found that most family members rarely discuss their relative’s incarceration at all outside the immediate family, even in neighborhoods where incarceration rates are high. Most family members explained that their silence stemmed from concerns about the stigma associated with incarceration. Although well-intentioned as a protective response, withholding basic information about a parent’s status may only heighten children’s feelings of stress and uncertainty.

Finally, the children themselves must deal with the issue of stigma. When a mother or father is imprisoned, a child may experience the disapproval of his or her peers, teachers, or other family members, resulting in feelings of shame and low self-esteem. Perhaps in neighborhoods of a high concentration of incarceration among the adults, losing one’s parent to prison is so common that the social stigma is diminished, but the experience still requires the child to work through a complex set of feelings about the actions of the parent in prison. In addition, even those children who are coping well with parental incarceration may have the added challenge of overcoming the stereotype that they are destined for a life of behavioral problems and failure.

Impact by Children’s Age Group 

The child development literature also provides a framework for assessing the differential impact of parental incarceration on children of various ages. The chart developed by Gabel and Johnston (1995) clarifies the intersection between developmental markers and the removal of a parent to prison (Table 1). For example, among infants (0–2 years), parental incarceration’s major effect is likely a disruption of parental bonding, with the potential for later attachment difficulties. Research on this age group also shows, however, that infants can recover quickly from the loss of a parent if they experience a new, nurturing, care-giving relationship (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000).

During the early childhood years (2–6 years), children have a greater ability to perceive events around them, but have not yet developed the skills to process traumatic occurrences. Children at this age have not yet completely separated themselves from their parents, so they tend to perceive threats or harm to their parents or caregivers as directed at themselves. Several studies suggest that traumatic stress at this age may have profound long-term effects, particularly if there is no intervention to help the child sort through those experiences (Furman 1983).

In the middle childhood years (7–10 years), when children are developing their social skills and a sense of independence, separation from a parent creates a sense of loss because a role model is taken away. If a child has poor coping skills to begin with, and particularly if he or she moves from home to home following the parent’s departure, such disruptions may accelerate a spiral of strain in the child’s life. Johnston and Carlin (1996) use the term “enduring trauma” to describe a situation where a child experiences several traumatic events with no time to recover and where the cumulative effect may overwhelm the child’s ability to cope. A child experiencing this level of trauma may display aggression, hypervigilance, anxiety, concentration problems, and withdrawal.

The impact of incarceration on adolescents (11 to 18 years) is likely quite different. Adolescence is a time when young people test boundaries, begin to navigate the world of romantic relationships, exercise more independence, explore the adult world of work, and develop a sense of self. The arrest and incarceration of an adolescent’s parent can derail those transitions to adulthood. These children may question the authority of the incarcerated parent and doubt the parent’s concern for them. They may take on new roles as parent figures to fill the void left by the incarcerated parent. Some studies have shown an increase in dependence and developmental regression among adolescents of incarcerated parents (Johnston 1992).

About 1.5 million minor children have a parent in prison, most frequently a father. In many ways, these children are no different from others of their age group, but they are experiencing a distinctive disruption in their lives. They have the same emotional needs to bond with a parent or other caregiver, to establish themselves as unique individuals in a social context, and to test their independence from the adults in their lives. All these development processes are made more complicated by the loss of a parent to prison, and more complicated still if the parent was arrested for behavior involving harm to the family or child.

Reconnecting with Family at the Time of Reentry 

In this section, we shift our focus from an inquiry into the impact of incarceration on parent-child relationships and child development to ask what role prisoners expect their families to play in the reentry process, what role families actually play, and what consequences befall families during this critical period.

When prisoners return home, they face multiple hurdles, many of which relate directly to the functioning of their families. They need to find housing, which may be with their relatives or immediate families. They need to find employment, which could add income to family budgets. Some have health concerns and may need to receive care for an HIV infection, secure medication for mental illness, or find substance abuse treatment to reduce the risk of relapse, all of which, if successful, would avert additional burdens and risks for their families. Many will owe the state child support payments, which, according to an extensive analysis in Colorado and Massachusetts, averaged more than $16,000 (Thoennes 2003).10 Most prisoners will be under legal supervision, bringing a state parole agency into their homes and lives.

The Returning Home Study 

In its Returning Home study in Maryland, the Urban Institute provides the first empirical look at the complex issues of family support for returning prisoners (La Vigne, Kachnowski, et al. 2003). The research team constructed a “Family Relationship Quality Scale” to assess the quality of familial connections.11 This scale was repeated four times over the continuum of the project—twice in the pre-release interview (first regarding family relationships before prison and again regarding prisoners’ expectations for these relationships after release) and once in each of the two post-release interviews conducted about one and four months after release. The Returning Home study reveals interesting dynamics in the prisoners’ perceptions, expectations, and experiences of family support. Prisoners characterized their family relationships as more close than distant. This conclusion is based on respondents’ scores on the scale, with mean values that range from one to four, one representing distant family relationships and four representing close family relationships (Visher et al. 2004, 110). During every stage of data collection, respondents provided mean scores that exceeded three, indicating that these family relationships were considered close.

They were also optimistic about renewing those relationships after their release; more than three-quarters expected this would be “very easy” or “pretty easy” to do. Interestingly, the prisoners expected their families to be more supportive after their release from prison than they had been before their incarceration. This finding is subject to a number of possible interpretations. Perhaps these families were undergoing strain at the time of the arrest. Perhaps there had been an improvement in family support during the prison sentence. More likely, the prisoners—all of whom were near release at the time of the interview—were projecting their hopes that their families would be supportive during the reentry phase.

The returning prisoners had very concrete expectations of the kinds of support their families would provide. Half of the women and 39 percent of the men expected their families would provide financial support. Well over half of the women (61 percent) and about half of the men (52 percent) planned on talking to a relative about getting a job. At least two-thirds of them (75 percent of women, 63 percent of men) expected to live with family members after their release from prison, including about one-third with their mothers or stepmothers, and less than a quarter with an intimate partner.

Importantly, they viewed family support as more than just providing money, jobs, or housing: Half of the inmates surveyed said that this support would be an important factor in keeping them out of prison.

These expectations were generally realized. Nearly half of the released prisoners slept at a family member’s home the first night they were back in the community. Nearly half sought assistance from relatives in finding a job. As a general matter, more than 80 percent of the sample interviewed about a month after release “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that their families had been supportive. In fact, when these ex-prisoners were interviewed again a few months later, these percentages increased to about 90 percent. Furthermore, the share that believed family support was important to staying out of prison also increased. It seems plausible that, as other challenges to successful reentry proved more difficult to overcome, the relative value of family support was enhanced.

These findings from Returning Home underscore the importance of family in the reentry process. When facing the prospects of succeeding in the outside world, prisoners place a high value on the support that their families will provide. Moreover, families generally keep their end of the bargain, becoming even more important with the passage of time. Future analysis of the Returning Home project will shed even more light on the dynamics of these familial relationships.

La Bodega de la Familia 

Other research suggests that, as critical as family support may be to successful reentry, it often comes with a price. The most insightful research on this issue comes from La Bodega de la Familia, a demonstration project launched on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1996 by the Vera Institute of Justice (Sullivan et al. 2002). La Bodega’s mission was to test the proposition that support provided to families of offenders with histories of drug abuse could reduce their drug use and their criminal activity. The intervention was called “family case management,” a novel approach to the problems of drug use and crime that utilizes the strengths of families to influence the behavior of a family member who is under criminal justice supervision. Although the overarching goal was to reduce the drug use and criminal activity of the family member under supervision, the immediate goal was to strengthen families so they could, in turn, support the drug user during treatment (Sullivan et al. 2002).

In La Bodega, the case manager spends considerable time with the offender’s family. Together, they construct an “ecomap,” which illustrates the public and community agencies on which the family relies, in order to find ways to coordinate existing services in the family’s best interest. They construct a “genogram,” a map of the family network that allows the drug offender to identify potential sources of support within the family. With these two analyses in hand, the family case manager, the offender, and the probation or parole officer construct a “family action plan,” which might include drug treatment for the offender, a support group for the family members, or counseling for a child in the family who faces difficulties in school. Based on this plan, La Bodega staff members become advocates for the family in approaching social service agencies and provide 24-hour crisis interventions when an arrest, relapse, or potential eviction occurs.

An evaluation of La Bodega found that the program did result in improvements in family members’ lives: they were receiving more medical and social services and their health had improved. The evaluation also found that drug use in the target population declined, just as the program designers had hoped. While 86 percent of the participants had used at least one substance during the month prior to joining the program, this proportion declined to 50 percent after six months in the program—a statistically significant reduction greater than that found in a comparison group. The participants’ overall physical health also improved. Finally, program participants were also about half as likely to be arrested and convicted for a new offense than members of the comparison group, but the numbers were too small to draw statistically sound conclusions.

There were two surprises in the evaluation, however. First, there had been no increase in the proportion of La Bodega participants who received drug treatment, nor in the amount of time spent in treatment. So, these impressive declines in drug use came about without greater reliance on traditional treatment programs. Family support apparently can make a difference in and of itself. But the research also found that, notwithstanding improvements in their services, support networks, and health status, the families participating in the La Bodega program reported higher rates of emotional problems and stress than at the beginning of the program, and higher than in the comparison group.

The evaluator suggested a possible explanation: “Perhaps as a consequence of having the issues surrounding drug abuse out on the table and having to deal with them openly, the La Bodega users and their family members experienced increased conflict in their relationships” (Sullivan 1993, 51). For program participants, the average overall “support index”—the measure of family support as experienced by the drug-using member—actually dropped during the six-month study, while it increased in the comparison group. As the evaluation concluded, “These unexpected results may point to the emotional burdens that La Bodega placed on the families and drug users with whom it worked” (Sullivan 1993, 51).

The story of La Bodega carries two important lessons pertaining to families’ role at the point of reentry. First, families matter. They provide the innermost concentric circle of support for returning prisoners.12 Providing support for families can translate into behavioral changes for the individual coming out of prison. Drug use can be reduced without increased reliance on traditional treatment, an important reminder in these times of fiscal constraints. Second, this is hard work for families. Even with a dedicated family case manager, a crisis intervention team available around the clock, and improvements in service coordination and health care, the family still feels the stress of helping a family member in need.

If we are to design policies that support families, we must remember to pay attention to the family’s emotional needs. The experience of La Bodega, now incorporated into the work of a new national nonprofit called Family Justice, points the way toward a new form of service delivery for returning prisoners that strengthens the ability of families to provide support.

In sum, this recent research from Maryland and New York City underscores the centrality of family in the reentry process. Prisoners have high expectations of family support that are often met. However, when families play a more active role in supporting the ex-offender’s transformation toward pro-social behavior—particularly moving away from substance abuse—they pay a price.

Our challenge is to work with prisoners and their families to maximize the support they can provide to each other, giving families the tools necessary for the hard work of family interventions, and providing the family network with external sources of emotional and other sustenance. This research suggests that, if done properly, this form of intervention might effectively ease the transition from prison, reduce substance abuse, and reduce crime.

Looking Forward 

Imprisonment causes ripple effects that are felt throughout a prisoner’s family network. The policies that have resulted in the imprisonment of well over a million people have magnified those effects in a strong undercurrent that is eroding the familial infrastructure of America’s poorest communities. Virtually every social institution that deals with children—including families, schools, child welfare agencies, foster care, and kinship care systems—is touched by the high rates of parental imprisonment. At the center of these community institutions are children—1.5 million of them—who are buffeted about between prison visits, time with foster parents, and life with grandparents and other new adults in their lives. These children are likely to grow up in families that have been weakened, increasing the challenges they face in staying out of the criminal justice system and leading productive lives. As they reach early adulthood, they will find that their choices of life partners are more limited than a generation ago, and their family structures will be quite different.

In view of the negative effects stemming from current imprisonment policies, we must ask whether society has an obligation to mitigate these harms. The research literature provides some limited guidance as we consider the efficacy of policies that would reflect such a social commitment. Keeping families strong would reduce future criminality, enhance child development, reduce child and family trauma and stress, and increase the likelihood that the children left behind would lead productive lives. Beyond these calculations of preventable harm, the next question pertains to who would be responsible for carrying out policies that would produce these results. Certainly there is much more that corrections agencies could do, but they would first have to see family strengthening as part of their mission. This, in turn, would require governors and state legislatures to lead efforts to expand both the mission statements and the financial support of state departments of corrections.

With this support, corrections agencies could improve their visitation policies, encourage rather than discourage phone calls, provide video links between prisons and community centers, find secure means for Internet communications between prisoners and families, bring families to their prisons, create family advocate positions within their organizations, eliminate the imposition of child support payments during the incarceration period, offer classes in parenting skills, and assist prisoners in asserting their rights in custody proceedings. We have no shortage of ideas, just a lack of mandate and the needed resources to carry out the new mandate.

Yet even if corrections agencies were provided adequate resources to implement a new mission to support families, they would need substantial assistance from the community. The existing network of agencies that serve children would need to recognize that these children need special attention when their parents go to prison. If communities embraced a mandate to support the families of incarcerated community members, a broad consortium of agencies would be called upon to meet the mandate. Schools would need to offer counseling to children at critical stages in the criminal justice process. Foster care agencies would have to ascertain whether a parent in prison would serve as a suitable parent upon release before moving for the termination of parental rights.

Youth-serving organizations would need to help young people with family members in the justice system work through their feelings of shame, anger, confusion, and denial. Government would have to fund a network of nonprofit agencies, such as Hope House, to provide the supportive environment where children could talk to their parents over video links or Internet connections. In addition, at the point of reentry, organizations similar to La Bodega de la Familia would need to be deployed to support the family networks that struggle to absorb the reality of a family member’s return. Organizing this effort would require a community-wide coalition, with strong support from local government, and partnerships with a state corrections agency committed to the same goals—to recognize the important role that families can play in successful reintegration, to minimize harm experienced by the children of incarcerated parents, and to promote strong and healthy families for each prisoner.

Open Records Suit filed against Department of Corrections over Policies governing Pregnant Prisoners

This comes from the ACLU:

FEBRUARY 1, 2010

The Rhode Island ACLU and the R.I. Chapter of the National Organization for Women have today filed an open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections (DOC), contesting the agency’s refusal to release its policies relating to the use of restraints on women prisoners when they are in labor, delivering a baby or in post-delivery recuperation. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Neal McNamara and Jillian Folger-Hartwell, seeks a court order releasing the requested documents, imposition of a fine and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Issues surrounding the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners by correctional institutions have been the subject of recent public debate nationwide. In an effort to examine the propriety of Rhode Island’s practices, the RI ACLU filed an open records request last September with the DOC to obtain its policies and procedures on the subject. Citing “security” reasons, however, the Department refused to release the documents. The DOC did acknowledge, though, that most pregnant women are handcuffed while being transported to, and while in bed recovering from labor at, the hospital.

The lawsuit notes that RI NOW and RI ACLU “share an interest in reviewing and analyzing the requested [DOC] policies and procedures and advocating for changes to them in order to better promote the health, safety and well-being of pregnant women prisoners,” but have been precluded from doing so due to the DOC’s refusal to release the documents.

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Former woman prisoner files rape suit against CCA guard & CCA

Former inmate alleges rape at private prison

By Stephenie Steitzer February 25, 2010
Louisville Courier Journal

A former inmate at the beleaguered private women’s prison in Eastern Kentucky has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was repeatedly raped by a prison employee in 2007.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, alleges that the employee at the Otter Creek Correctional Center forced her to engage in non-consensual sexual acts between March and October 2007 and threatened to block her parole if she reported him to authorities.

The alleged victim also names Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the prison under contract with the state, and the Department of Corrections as defendants. It alleges that they failed to properly screen, train and supervise the employee.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an e-mail Thursday that the employee was terminated last March.

Owen said CCA has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, and could not comment further at this time.

Department of Corrections Commission LaDonna Thompson said Thursday that she had not yet seen the suit and could not comment.

It could not be determined whether the employee is facing criminal charges relating to the allegations.

A Kentucky State Police spokesman familiar with cases against former Otter Creek workers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

At least six workers at Otter Creek have been charged with sex-related crimes involving inmates at the facility.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced last month that the state will move more than 400 women prisoners out of Otter Creek given the allegations of sexual misconduct by male workers there.

The women prisoners will be transferred to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia this summer, and the nearly 700 male inmates now there will be moved to Otter Creek, which has more than 650 beds, and other prisons in the state.

CCA has been under fire since last summer after multiple inmates at Otter Creek made allegations that they were sexually assaulted by corrections officers and other workers there.

A Department of Corrections investigation found that prison authorities failed to investigate seven alleged incidents of sexual contact between workers and inmates since 2007. In four of those cases, the workers involved were fired.

But investigations required under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act were not conducted.

The suit filed this week states that the alleged victim originally denied that she had been raped because “she was so afraid of (the employee’s) threats regarding her parole.”

It says she told investigators last July that the incidents had occurred.

The suit says that the alleged victim was released on parole in September 2008 under the condition that she remain free of any parole violations for six years.

She seeks damages, including punitive damages, in an amount to be determined by a jury, according to the lawsuit.

Her attorney, William Butler Jr. of Louisville, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100225/NEWS01/2250359/1008/Former+inmate+alleges+rape+at+private+prison