Should children stay with their moms…in prison?

The New York Times reports today on a Mexico City policy that mandates children born in prison stay with their mothers until they’re 6 years-old–rather than being raised by relatives or foster parents.

Fifty-three children under the age of 6 live inside the prison with their mothers, who are serving sentences for crimes from drug dealing to kidnapping to homicide. Mothers dressed in prison blue, many with tattoos, carry babies on their hips around the exercise yard. Others lead toddlers and kindergartners by the hand, play with them in the dust or bounce them on their knees on prison benches.
…A debate continues among Mexican academics over whether spending one’s early years in a jail causes mental problems later in life, but for the moment the law says babies must stay with their mothers. So the prison has a school with three teachers.

This is a hard one. I cringe at the idea of children being taken away from their mothers, but I also doubt that a prison is the healthiest place for a child. Women who lack the financial resources to care for their kids in prison say that their children are often sick because of the poor condition of the cells and can’t afford to buy the prescriptions given to them. I’m especially wary when there are women who want their children raised elsewhere.

Ms. Rendón, however, said she sometimes wished she could give her daughter to relatives to raise. No one gives her money, so she makes a living selling snacks to visitors. Her child is delicate and gets sick frequently with chest colds, she said. She said she considered the prison food unhealthy, so she buys food for the girl from a grocery store the prison allows to operate inside its walls…“I think the best thing for my daughter would be for her to be outside with her grandmother,â€? [she] said.

For more information on women in prison (in the U.S.) check out the Women’s Prison Association. For organizations that work with women in Mexico, look to MADRE and Amnesty International.

Join the Conversation