Children of incarcerated, Female Offenders, Get on the Bus Program, Mother's Day, Parenting, Women in Prison

What I Learned in Prison: Women in Front & Behind Bars #9

Mother’s Day is coming soon. The date makes me remember the young women in our facility. They became more anxious the closer Mother’s Day came. Several of them had children and most would not see them on that day. 

                  Anger, depression, and isolation was usually the result for  these young mothers.

California has the largest female prison population in the United States, almost 7,000 women. Nearly 80% of them are parents. Statistics aren’t kept on children, but if we say each offender has two to three children it can be approximated that close to 15,000 children are without mothers. Of these approximately 25% are in foster care, with the majority remaining with grandmothers and relatives.* The numbers are much higher if jails are included.

According to the Women’s Prison & Home Association, Inc.:

                  Children of offenders are five times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves.  

“One in 10 will have been incarcerated before reaching adulthood.” Surely the statistics on parent-child bonding, trauma, detachment disorders, and depression are high for these children.

In California three prisons house women: Central California’s Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA,  Valley State Prison, also in Chowchilla-Northern California, and houses more than 5,350 women. The southern area facility, California Institute for Women in Corona, CA houses 1,600 women. Ventura Youth Correctional Facility also houses female offenders under 21 years old. This is in Camarillo, California and at one time had close to 400 young women. 

Research from the Bureau of Justice suggests: 

           …visitation significantly increases parent-child attachment,however more than half of incarcerated women are more than 100 miles away from their children. 

There are other states, like Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Albama, which do a far better job at visitation and family reunification. Countries such as Mexico and Germany have prison nurseries, enhanced visitation, and mother-child programs. 

Research shows that women and children in these programs do much better than without the mother-child contact. There are two programs in California that seek to assist reunification through visitation:

The “Get on the Bus” annual trip from Southern California. The trip takes place close to Mother’s and Father’s Day. They have been doing this volunteer work for 12 years when they made one trip, on one bus, with 17 children. It is a four hour drive from Los Angeles to Chowchilla. For ways to help children visit through this program, here is their website. You can help in any number of ways.

The Chowchilla Family Express travels once a week from different major cities. Several churches sponsor the trips providing for meals and expenses. This program is the funded by The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. When I went to the website I found, “(CFE)…is temporarily closed until the state contract is awarded.” 

All of this boils down to this: 

California has the most female offenders, with  a quarter of their children in foster care, who live far away without regular visitation.  

I know and I agree that these women are responsible for their own behavior and that punishment is part of the criminal justice system. So why should we care?

We should care because innocent children pay for the sins of their mothers. They will suffer through abandonment issues, detachment disorders, and various other traumas that affect their schooling, future relationships, and put them at risk for incarceration themselves. 

What can you do? 

  • Check to see if your state has any programs such as “Get on the Bus,” visitation. 
  • Lobby and press for more community based residential parenting programs. They are much cheaper than prisons. (There is one three miles away from me and we haven’t had any problems) . 
  • Get your church involved or create a school project that will raise money for reunification trips. 
  • If you have a transition house in your area, for female offenders or parolees, perhaps they can use children’s clothes or toys. 
  • Participate in Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree project. 
  • Donate to Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Program.
  • If you know someone who is high risk for incarceration, reach out to her or put her in contact with a community program that can intervene before she loses her children.

Every mother should be able to see their children on Mother’s Day.

*Women in Prison Project 2010

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