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.

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66 Comments

  1. Thomas
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    My gut reaction is that prison healthcare is so bad that nobody (including offenders) ought to be subject to it …
    But then, for many folks without insurance, our healthcare “system” is limited to visits to overburdened ERs and clinics, which is not exactly a recipe for quality care either.
    Also, given the rates at which incarcerated women are sexually assaulted by guards, I’m wary of giving those people access to children. (My own experiences, doing criminal defense, with corrections officers has only illustrated for me that they should not be entrusted to hold a position of power over everyone, as they are the worst combination of police and DMV clerks.)

  2. SarahMC
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    So they are sentencing children, who have committed no crimes, to six-year prison terms?

  3. stone biscuit
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I have a seriously hard time believing that anyone thinks it’s a good idea to require babies and young children to be in prisons.

  4. UCLAbodyimage
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    UMM…
    Shouldn’t the law be that women in prison have the OPTION of caring for their kid or letting relatives adopt the child?
    Pro-choice, anyone?

  5. Mina
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    “So they are sentencing children, who have committed no crimes, to six-year prison terms?”
    Good point, especially for kids in the older part of the age range.
    OTOH, is being in a crib in Grandma’s house really that much less imprisoning than being in a crib in Mom’s cell for a 5-month-old who isn’t able to get out of the crib?
    “I have a seriously hard time believing that anyone thinks it’s a good idea to require babies and young children to be in prisons.”
    Sadly, I wouldn’t be suprised.
    You know how some people out there claim “adoption is bad because children always belong with their mothers” without making an exception for children whose mothers are dead? If they think sitting at Mom’s grave can be the best place for a child to live, no doubt they think sitting in Mom’s prison cell can be the best place for another child to live.

  6. Kmari1222
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    “Shouldn’t the law be that women in prison have the OPTION of caring for their kid or letting relatives adopt the child?
    Pro-choice, anyone?”
    I think I agree with this. A woman should be able to decide if she can take care of her child in prison, or not. Or take care of her child for a year, then have the child stay with a relative.
    I do think prison health care needs to be reconciled with, however. Just because these women are in prison doesn’t mean they don’t deserve decent medical attention.

  7. Posted December 31, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn’t the law be that women in prison have the OPTION of caring for their kid or letting relatives adopt the child?

    Yes, that certainly seems to make more sense.
    I wonder, though (and this is just off-the-cuff) if having it as an “option” would result in a lot of women who WANT their kids to stay with them, losing their ability to take care of the kids. Some ‘optional’ things in life prove not to be very optional at all.
    Not that such a fact would necessarily justify the forced-care model, but it seems worth considering.

  8. Posted December 31, 2007 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that I see this as hard at all… I don’t like the idea that there’s something magical about biological motherhood such that it’s awful in every case to have the children raised by someone else. In fact, frankly, I think in a LOT of cases there are people who could raise the kids better than their biological moms, especially if the moms are convicted criminals. No one would ever suggest having children live with their imprisoned fathers, and I can’t think of a legitimate feminist reason for treating mothers (POST-birth, aside from obvious medical differences) any differently.
    And I say this as someone who is FEROCIOUSLY devoted to her mother and could not imagine having been brought up by anyone else. I’m just also aware, from knowing a LOT of people whose relationships with their mothers don’t even approach the closeness of my relationship with mine, that having a great mother is, sadly, pretty damn rare. And we have to be realistic: if mom is in prison, the chances she’ll be a good mother are pretty fucking slim.

  9. Anjali
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    OK this is just extremely messed up. The article touches on how the children might face psychological problems in the future after spending the first 6 years of their life in prison…well DUH! I remember my life pretty well for when I was 6 and I’m pretty sure that if I was raised in a prison, it would have had a huge effect on me.
    Funny how the kids have to stay with their mothers in prison though. Is this only for kids raised by only their mothers? Or does it also include the kids raised by both parents? I wonder if there’s anything like this for men…probably not.

  10. Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I also wrote about this today. My mom is in prison and I live with family, but she was arrested when I was 11. I like things much better living in the real world.

  11. Mina
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    “And we have to be realistic: if mom is in prison, the chances she’ll be a good mother are pretty fucking slim.”
    Wouldn’t that depend on how she got in prison? Getting caught cooking the books is one thing, getting caught boiling the baby is another…

  12. noname
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    “Shouldn’t the law be that women in prison have the OPTION of caring for their kid or letting relatives adopt the child?” – UCLAbodyimage
    Should men have the same right?

  13. Kmari1222
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “Or does it also include the kids raised by both parents? I wonder if there’s anything like this for men…probably not.”
    That is a VERY good point. Maybe this whole thing is sexist because it puts ONE PARENT (the mother, of course) as the main carer for a child. Isn’t that one of the things we fight for? More recognition for fathers as caretakers and mothers as a person?
    and yeah, why is it better to have a child in prison with the mother rather than the father? Why do we/I feel so differently about the two?

  14. Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Well, Mina, granted that the justice system in the US (and likely in Mexico as well) is far from fair, but as a general rule, the fact that someone is in prison is a very strong indicator that she has committed a pretty bad crime (assuming “prison” versus “jail” works the same way there as here — i.e., longer sentences go to prison). Plus, the fact that she is behind bars just plains means she, at least temporarily, simply does not have the capacity to be a good mother. You can’t be a good mother in prison, because, um, you’re in PRISON, fair or not. There is NO good way to raise a child in prison. Period.

  15. Posted December 31, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    What if a woman gets arrested for abusing her kids? Then do the little ones still have to stay with her in prison?

  16. Posted December 31, 2007 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Well, Mina, granted that the justice system in the US (and likely in Mexico as well) is far from fair, but as a general rule, the fact that someone is in prison is a very strong indicator that she has committed a pretty bad crime (assuming “prison” versus “jail” works the same way there as here — i.e., longer sentences go to prison).
    LF, what about all of the bullshit three-strike laws? I haven’t got the slightest clue whether or not Mexico has anything like that and what kind of crimes will land you sentences in prison there, but I think we’re also talking in a more general sense about whether this ever is or could be a good idea.
    These comments have been slightly upsetting to me, mostly because they’re coming from a lot of people whose opinions I generally respect. I don’t like the idea of children incarcerated with their parents for obvious reasons, either. But when a parent is incarcerated, what we’ve got is a bad situation either way.
    Politics aside, I can think of one very good reason why young children should be allowed to stay with their mothers: breast-feeding. As for politics, we can’t forget that women of color are incarcerated at much higher rates than white women (again, talking U.S. here). The question is whether or not we think that incarceration means that one has lost their parenting rights. And if we think so, we need to be aware of and held responsible for the fact that those rights will be taken away from particular communities in much higher numbers than in others: and that’s poor women and women of color. Two groups, by the way, that have historically had their rights to have and raise children taken from them.
    I think that what this truly requires would be prison reform, where we stop considering prisons — particularly for nonviolent offenders — as a place for punishing and start considering them a place for rehabilitation. If we worked under that model, I feel like such an arrangement would actually be beneficial to women and children, and make these women much better mothers or much more likely to actually care for their children as mothers when they leave prison.
    I know that this kind of system is not what’s happening in Mexico, and the idea that children should have to live with their incarcerated mothers is clearly ridiculous. But that means we should be imagining and offering better solutions. I imagine that conversation would be a lot more worthwhile.

  17. A male
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    “My gut reaction is that prison healthcare is so bad that nobody (including offenders) ought to be subject to it …”
    As a matter of fact, opponents argue that prisoners have better coverage than many Americans on the outside. The corrections system is the first preventative or health maintenance care that many underprivileged inmates receive. Medical, dental, vision, mental health, at state expense, probably the only health coverage they have ever had. In the extreme, one can even have two successive heart transplants (one failed) while in the prison system, at state expense.
    This is one reason I would like to become a corrections nurse, and I’ve been inside to study it. If someone is going to be jailed for years or the rest of their lives, they deserve to be in decent health, as a human rights issue*. And if someone wants inmates to suffer in prison, wouldn’t it also be best if they were in the best of health to prolong their lives and make them realize what they are missing outside?
    * How do corrections nurses deal with “helping” known wifebeaters, murderers and rapists? Survey of corrections nurses shows they are seen as patients, not inmates. “Inmate” is a guard’s word. They are no different from people arriving in the hospital because of their own actions and lifestyles such as substance abuse, drunk driving, or a life of violence. Patients need help, and why is not our business (unless we need to report suspected abuse). Corrections nurses are known for not looking at the charges section of the chart, because it has no relevance to patient care.
    I also agree that inmates should be given a choice whether or not to have their small children with them. Less dependent children should really be somewhere else.
    “There is NO good way to raise a child in prison. Period.”
    Depends on the prison and the services they provide. Keeping children in prison instead of handing them over to partners or grandparents is costing the state money, so they must have their reasons.

  18. Kmari1222
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    “I think that what this truly requires would be prison reform, where we stop considering prisons — particularly for nonviolent offenders — as a place for punishing and start considering them a place for rehabilitation.”
    amen to that.

  19. uberhausfrau
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    id have to go find the information again, but i remember reading the state of new york allows for certain incarcerated women up to one year with their children to establish and maintain a nursing relationship.
    and while i dont know about mexico, we must remember, once you have a child taken from your custody for any reason or any amount of time, it can be hell to get them back, if you ever get them back.

  20. lyndorr
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    How about it partly depends on how much time the woman has left in her sentence? It doesn’t seem fair to the child to have him or her be with their mom for six years and then make them live with someone else. However, if a mom has say, two years or less of a sentence, the child shouldn’t remember living in jail and can become attached to its mother as soon as he or she is born instead of at two years old after the child is strongly attached to another adult.

  21. Anjali
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Does a child really have to live with the mother in order to develop a relationship? Can’t the government instead order something like mandatory visits or something? I know that the child won’t be able to take themselves to the prison, and I also know that routinely taking the child to prison to visit his/her criminal mother won’t exactly be the number one priority of the child’s foster parents (or relatives…or whoever’s taking care of him/her). But seriously…there has GOT to be a better option than forcing a child to grow up in prison. Even if the woman is a good mother…that doesn’t say that every woman in there is a good person. Every prisoner is different so obviously, even if the child’s mother is not dangerous, the child would still be growing up in a dangerous environment.

  22. UCLAbodyimage
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    UCLA: “Shouldn’t the law be that women in prison have the OPTION of caring for their kid or letting relatives adopt the child?”
    NONAME: Should men have the same right?”
    I think that the default should be that the child stays with the non-imprisoned parent presuming there are no child endangerment issues, and that there are extensive visitation options for the child and imprisoned parent.
    I think there also be rooms where the inmate can have bonding time with the child (punishing the offender is one matter – that doesn’t need the child needs to be punished).
    If there is no mother and the father is imprisoned for non-violent crimes, I would support allowing him to have custody depending on what kind of institution he is in and depending on what other options are available (e.g., grandparents). Same for women.

  23. sunflwrmoonbeam
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Speaking from personal experience, I know that they have this to some extent in Illinois. My step-sister-in-law spent most of her last pregnancy incarcerated, and I believe could have kept the kid in jail with her for several months (maybe one year?), and would often have sleepovers with her 3 year old daughter. While this could be good for families, I know in this situation it would have been best that the kids be taken away from my SSIL as she is a terrible parent (to the point that she almost lost custody of her oldest to her parents/the grandparents except for a random state supreme court ruling that came down 3 days before her hearing). Unfortunately, it’s often not the best for a child to be with its mother, and I think that’s doubly true in jail/prison.

  24. dananddanica
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    this is a tricky one, as mentioned above the intent of prison is to punish the offender, not the child.
    i just dont see that the benefits of being raised to age 6 in a prison outweighing the risks. while the prison may in fact be safer and healthier than the home environments some of the families could provide that cant be the case with every child.
    of course this would never be the case for fathers, I wonder if there is a father willing to take care of the child if the mother can still keep it in prison? another reason it wouldn’t apply to men is the conditions in mens prisons, as far as I’ve read and seen, are far far worse than womens prisons and no place for a child unless they were placed in another area.
    the intent behind this seems to be good but its just so complicated.

  25. SlackerInc
    Posted December 31, 2007 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    “No one would ever suggest having children live with their imprisoned fathers, and I can’t think of a legitimate feminist reason for treating mothers (POST-birth, aside from obvious medical differences) any differently.”
    Ummmm….like Cara, I can think of one very legitimate reason: breastfeeding. Formula feeding isn’t just “not quite as good”: it subjects the baby to significantly greater risks to health, development, even death, not to mention a permanent reduction in brainpower and an increased likelihood of lifelong obesity.
    And only women can breastfeed a child, which is something really awesome about women.
    Alan

  26. Posted December 31, 2007 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Cara, I agree one billion percent that prison reform is badly needed, certainly in our country and I’m sure in most if not all others.
    But I think looking at it from that perspective complicates and conflates the issues unnecessarily. None of this changes the fact that we are talking about incarcerating newborn children for crimes their mothers have committed. I mean, if anything, this is horrendously sexist in that it punishes TWO people instead of one for the crimes of WOMEN ONLY.
    As to the pro-choice rhetoric, I think it’s misplaced here. I am completely pro-choice, but I don’t think that includes letting the woman make all choices once the child is no longer part of her body. Once the baby is born, there’s another person we have to consider. And I cannot see prison ever being the ideal place to raise a child, no matter how wrongful or unfair the parent’s incarceration. Should we be concerned about people wrongfully imprisoned? ABSOLUTELY. Does this have anything to do with a child’s welfare? I can’t see how, logically, it does. Emotionally, we don’t think it’s fair to “take” a woman’s child from her because she’s in prison. But imagine we were talking about male inmates. Would anyone here actually suggest we should involuntarily stick 6-year-olds in prison with their dads?
    I’m not trying to say the prison system is anywhere near fair, or perfect, or any of that. It’s horrifically unfair and unjust and the people there often have their rights horribly violated, and all of this needs to come to an end. But aren’t these all reasons why we *shouldn’t* put baby humans there??
    As for breast-feeding, while in general this is certainly a woman’s choice issue, I don’t see it as a women’s issue in the prison context. All prisoners of any gender or sex have a whole host of rights taken away from them — that’s the nature of imprisonment. Again, leaving aside the question of whether this is done properly, the fact that a *woman’s* rights are taken away, to me, does not automatically make this a feminist issue until we see inequality. So, if a woman is denied visits from her children while a man is not, that’s a feminist issue. If men are given a greater number of conjugal visits than women, that’s a feminist issue. If women’s parental rights are wholly terminated more easily than are men’s, that’s a feminist issue (note here that when I say the kids shouldn’t be in prison with their moms I am decidedly NOT saying she gives up her rights to the child; she just doesn’t get to imprison another person along with her). When we say that we’re not going to give women special rights to incarcerate their children along with them (again, regardless of whether they’ve been unfairly imprisoned), that’s a step TOWARD, not away from, equality. And then we can focus our attention on much-needed prison reform.

  27. werechick
    Posted January 1, 2008 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    In this country, foster care is a mess, and I can’t imagine it would be better in Mexico. With this in mind, a parent in prison (but not a danger to the child) seems a far better option than a group home, especially at a very young age. That age is key to psychological development and without individual attention, that kid can be made into, literally, a sociopath. So I quite understand the emphasis here.
    I don’t know if prison is a better option, not knowing the state of the alternatives. I see no reason why a child should be REQUIRED to stay with his/her mother, though, that’s definitely not in the child’s best interest if fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles or some other relative or family friend can take the child.

  28. Posted January 1, 2008 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    I do not like seeing my mom in prison. It is loud and hot and she is not the same person I remember. And people are watching all the time. They didn’t even let me bring in a hairbrush so she could do my braids. I am better off HERE. Why is it different for little kids?

  29. Posted January 1, 2008 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Nobody answered the question of what happens if the mom is in jail BECAUSE OF child abuse. Then what?

  30. Mina
    Posted January 1, 2008 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    “None of this changes the fact that we are talking about incarcerating newborn children for crimes their mothers have committed. I mean, if anything, this is horrendously sexist in that it punishes TWO people instead of one for the crimes of WOMEN ONLY.”
    You’d have a point here if you were talking about 5-year-olds. At the same time, being a newborn in the first place limits one’s freedom even more than whether one’s surrounded by prison walls or home walls. What difference does the lock on the door make when you can’t leave the crib and reach the door?
    “As to the pro-choice rhetoric, I think it’s misplaced here. I am completely pro-choice, but I don’t think that includes letting the woman make all choices once the child is no longer part of her body.”
    Right on.
    “Nobody answered the question of what happens if the mom is in jail BECAUSE OF child abuse. Then what?”
    Then definitely don’t put the child in with her!

  31. Posted January 1, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    The cruelest thing here, to me, is the idea of institutionalizing children as infants and then ripping them away from the only person and environment they know at age six.
    Maybe it’s better if infants are raised by their mother, assuming the mother wants to do that – but they should be relinquished to a healthier environment long before they reach six years of age.

  32. Mina
    Posted January 1, 2008 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, what about school?
    I mean, I’ve heard of kids normally starting as late as age 7 in part of Scandinavia, but in many other places they typically start at 5 or 6.
    For kids who would start at 5: Would schooling be provided in their mothers’ prisons (prison classrooms and homeschool-style lessons both seem possible), would they be given rides to schools outside, or would they be deprived of school altogether for the duration?

  33. Posted January 1, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Wow. Interesting conversation.
    I think the ideal situation would be a halfway house with minimum security for new mothers. Optional, of course, and depending on the severity and type the crime.
    I am troubled by the lack of compassion for mothers who are incarcerated. Spending time with your child, especially a newborn, is important in a way I can’t express in a comment on here. I don’t know about Mexico, but I am assuming it is similar to the United States, where most prisoners are non violent offenders. Being incarcerated in no way means someone would be a terrible mother, and this mother bashing doesn’t belong on a feminist board. Moms do not have to be saints. There are few crimes in which ones right to be a mother is taken away, so please don’t impose this extra punishment on women.

  34. Mina
    Posted January 1, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    “I think the ideal situation would be a halfway house with minimum security for new mothers. Optional, of course, and depending on the severity and type the crime.”
    Good point. If it didn’t depend on the severity and type of the crime, then it could punish other convicts for not being new mothers. For example, sentencing someone to a medium-security prison instead of a minimum-security halfway house because she has no kids and isn’t even pregnant instead of nursing a newborn.
    “Being incarcerated in no way means someone would be a terrible mother, and this mother bashing doesn’t belong on a feminist board.”
    Is it mother bashing or prisoner bashing, though?

  35. Posted January 1, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    In the article it says that they have a nursery school and a kindergarten and three teachers at the prison in Mexico.

  36. Posted January 1, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Being incarcerated in no way means someone would be a terrible mother, and this mother bashing doesn’t belong on a feminist board.

    THANK YOU!

  37. Posted January 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I am troubled by the lack of compassion for mothers who are incarcerated. Spending time with your child, especially a newborn, is important in a way I can’t express in a comment on here. I don’t know about Mexico, but I am assuming it is similar to the United States, where most prisoners are non violent offenders. Being incarcerated in no way means someone would be a terrible mother, and this mother bashing doesn’t belong on a feminist board. Moms do not have to be saints. There are few crimes in which ones right to be a mother is taken away, so please don’t impose this extra punishment on women.
    Hilary, being a feminist doesn’t mean you can never be critical of any woman, ever. That someone happens to be a mother definitely does NOT make her immune to criticism. And you’ll note that (I believe) no one here is pretending that the criminal justice system is remotely fair in its treatment of people (and, thus, a lot of people are wrongfully imprisoned, etc.) The point is not that these women can never be good mothers. The point is that being in prison severely impairs your ability to raise a child, to the point where I would contend that someone else should be charged, at least temporarily, with the bulk of the child-rearing. This doesn’t mean taking away their “right” to be mothers. It means putting the child’s interests first, which is what a good mother (or father, for that matter) DOES. Just because a child doesn’t live with her mother doesn’t mean her mother is no longer her mother! If it did, I know a lot of children of divorce, to say nothing of all of us adult children, who would be quite surprised to learn that they no longer have mothers.
    I absolutely agree that compassion for incarcerated mothers (and all incarcerated persons) is well warranted. What does this have to do with what’s best for the child?

  38. Mina
    Posted January 1, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “It means putting the child’s interests first, which is what a good mother (or father, for that matter) DOES. Just because a child doesn’t live with her mother doesn’t mean her mother is no longer her mother! If it did, I know a lot of children of divorce, to say nothing of all of us adult children, who would be quite surprised to learn that they no longer have mothers.”
    Likewise, don’t forget all the ones who would be quite surprised to learn that they no longer have fathers.

  39. Posted January 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I have an ex-father. I have not seen him in 10 years.

  40. Posted January 1, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Do they ever arrest MARRIED women? If they do, can’t the daddy take care of HIS OWN kids?

  41. Dave
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    A male:
    “‘Inmate’ is a guard’s word.”
    I am getting the impression that you are more adversarial to the officers than you are to the inmates. If this is true then you need to examine your approach to work in a prison. Inmates should not be looked at like just another patient. They are in prison for a reason. I am not saying you have to check what they were convicted of before you check blood pressure, but you do have to be careful.
    dananddanica:
    “… the conditions in mens prisons, as far as I’ve read and seen, are far far worse than womens prisons and no place for a child unless they were placed in another area.”
    That is a popular misconception. I have talked to a number of people that have worked in both men’s and women’s prisons, including my mother. They have all agreed that the men’s prisons are safer.
    On the original issue, I think it would be much more harm than good to raise a child in a prison after two years old or even one year old. A child specialist once explained to me that a child starts formulating behavior when they start to remember and repeat words. Children start talking well before the age of six. I think we can all agree that we don’t want a child’s behavior constructed with the help of a prison atmosphere.

  42. A male
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    “I am getting the impression that you are more adversarial to the officers than you are to the inmates.”
    I wouldn’t say that. But guards are not patient advocates, and safety, not human rights, are probably their priority, which is how it should be. Guards are not nurses, and nurses are not guards.
    “Inmates should not be looked at like just another patient. They are in prison for a reason.”
    Considering the prevalence of unreported crime such as DV and rape (both sexes) in society, and the rampant use of drugs in my community, quite frankly, it would be a kind of discrimination to assume that someone in jail is much worse than someone outside. Women are raped by anybody. DV can also be committed by anybody, male or female. In the AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and Al-Anon meetings I sometimes attend for study purposes, many members have criminal records (aside from being drug offenders by definition). I see them as nothing more than common blue collar workers I see anywhere in the local service economy.
    “I am not saying you have to check what they were convicted of before you check blood pressure, but you do have to be careful.”
    It is what guards are for. You would be surprised how even criminals behave when respected like human beings. I was sitting close enough to touch knees with a young man in for attempted murder, who was there to tell me his story. He talked. I listened. He felt no need to assert himself beyond violating my personal space (probably unintentionally), and I was not afraid. I also met two women who wanted nothing more than to be with their children again. I believe they were there on drug offenses. They were well aware than any screwups on their special program* six months prior to release date, would mean more time. Mind you, a screwup included not being where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be, which was considered an escape, which could add IIRC, two years to their sentence.
    * Something that should be noted about the local prison. It has a revolutionary program in place, the only one of its kind in the nation, and National Geographic was there last year to document it. Inmates six months prior to release can be selected to take part in a training program with military like discipline. Program participants live in communal dorm or barrack type housing with NO locked doors and NO guards inside. The women’s quarters, also unlocked, are surrounded by the men’s quarters. While on the program, they are required to get jobs OUTSIDE the prison. Some inmates are allowed to HAVE CARS, with which they are allowed to drive themselves to and from work. Just last month, a local book drive resulted in the community donating over 3,000 items to the prison. Inmates were overjoyed.
    Women in jail living among men, with no locks and no guards? A prison without walls and barbed wire, surrounded by tall brush and mountains, next to a highway, 50 feet from the municipal golf course? Inmates leaving every morning to go to work in the community? Inmates with cars driving to work? Sound insane? I thought so too until I heard the success and safety record of the program. Contrast this to 25 years ago, when my entire 8th grade visited the prison in a scared straight type program, inmates were openly hostile to each other, offenders got thrown in “the hole,” a dark room in the ceiling where they got bread and water (there is none now), and man on man rape was a problem. Too freakin’ soft on wife beaters and rapists? You wouldn’t want to be in there a single day.
    Also keep in mind that this does not change my views on crime. I consider it a greater problem that most violent criminals never go in. It’s for them I keep a gun.

  43. Destra
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    You are balancing the positive effects of a child growing up with her mother against the negative effects of growing up in a prison. The weighing seems pretty simple to me.

  44. BWrites
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    To further complicate matters, IIRC there are lots of studies that say keeping a strong bond with children can reduce the rate of re-offense/reincarceration. So keeping a child with his or her mom may increase the odds that mom won’t return to prison again, which is in most cases a net benefit.

  45. A male
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    The thing the women I saw and met in prison wanted most, was to see their kids again. One was practically crying that she was going to miss out on about five years of her daughter’s life. The 11 year old daughter was pretty pissed the mother was in jail.

  46. Posted January 2, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    The thing the women I saw and met in prison wanted most, was to see their kids again. One was practically crying that she was going to miss out on about five years of her daughter’s life. The 11 year old daughter was pretty pissed the mother was in jail.
    I was 11 when my mom went to jail and I know she cried over missing me. I think she should be in drug treatment or a psych hospital and not jail, but I am glad she is not at my house. Things were pretty messed up around here the last 3 or 4 years before she was arrested.

  47. Q
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Hilary wrote:
    I am troubled by the lack of compassion for mothers who are incarcerated. Spending time with your child, especially a newborn, is important in a way I can’t express in a comment on here. I don’t know about Mexico, but I am assuming it is similar to the United States, where most prisoners are non violent offenders. Being incarcerated in no way means someone would be a terrible mother, and this mother bashing doesn’t belong on a feminist board. Moms do not have to be saints. There are few crimes in which ones right to be a mother is taken away, so please don’t impose this extra punishment on women.
    ________________________
    So are you assuming that non-violent offenders are per se able to parent? Sorry, but a woman on crack is not fit to parent. Period.
    Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t jailed for no reason. They certainly aren’t sent to PRISON, which is reserved only for people convicted of felony offenses.
    When you commit a felony, you forfeit your right to breastfeed, bond, etc. with your child. That’s the way the world works.
    I don’t see why the children should be imprisoned for their mothers’ crimes. That seems far worse than missing out on the benefits of breastmilk, IMO.

  48. scorch
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    The federal system strikes a balance between some of the competing needs people have identified here. Pregnant inmates go to a separate special facility where they give birth and take care of their newborns for a period of months. Having older children in an institution raises serious safety and developmental concerns. I’ve visited prisons of differing security levels and even the low security ones are pretty institutional and scary and nowhere you’d want to raise a child.
    Maintaining the mother-child bond is very difficult for incarcerated moms in the federal system. Because the Bureau of Prisons stretches across the country, they can be sent anywhere, making visitation impossible in some cases.
    It is pretty heartbreaking to see, particularly when they are incarcerated for non-violent offenses like FEMA fraud or immigration.

  49. Posted January 2, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I thought immigration problems were a misdemeanor. Why are they in prison?

  50. A male
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    “They certainly aren’t sent to PRISON, which is reserved only for people convicted of felony offenses.”
    You may be surprised how normal people who are addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs are. Try any AA or NA meeting to see. Keep in mind that the vast majority of people who are alcoholic or use illegal drugs are never arrested or go to prison, to be judged as having a criminal record. Laura Bush killed a boy while DUI as a student, and the President is rather coy about his life prior to 1983. Laura Bush, at least, was fit to parent.
    Also, you may be surprised by what constitutes a felony, such as shoplifting.

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