Mother's Day When Mom's on Lock Down

| Fri May 8, 2009 9:05 PM EDT

If Obama wants a way to talk about race without, you know, talking about race, here's a thought: criminal justice reform and mothers behind bars.

From CNN:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The incarceration rates for US mothers began to surge in the 1980s, fueled by the crack cocaine epidemic and tougher mandatory sentencing laws, experts said.
A recent study by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics found the number of incarcerated mothers rose 131 percent from 1991 to 2007, while the number of fathers in prison increased 77 percent during the same period.
According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit, about 1.7 million children have a parent in prison.
...When a father is imprisoned, the mother typically cares for the children, said Danielle Dallaire, a psychology professor at the College of William and Mary. But her research shows that when a mother is incarcerated, the father often plays no role in raising the children left behind.
Federal statistics show children are five times more likely to end up in foster care when a mother is sent to prison than when a father is imprisoned.

Granted, folks shouldn't commit crimes, especially those with parental responsibilities. Still. We've got to do some thinking about what happens to the kids in these situations. Thankfully, there's a movement afoot to lessen the strain on kids separated from their moms. The article talks about prisons instituting day care centers, nurseries, and summer camps to keep the mother-child bond alive, as well as running bus services to facilitate visitation.

It's difficult to raise much sympathy for many of these moms, but they aren't the point. The kids are. It's one of those 'pay me now or pay me later' deals. If we abandon these kids, they're just going to end up taking their parents' places on the cell block. One wonders how many of these (non-violent) moms should have been found guilty but allowed to stay in their communities doing hard core public service, getting their GEDs and substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration. [See MoJo's reporting on our broken prison system.]

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.