Mass incarceration has become a major problem in the United States. With 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States, it’s only natural for us to wonder how all of the mothers in prison are coping with their emotions and effectively raising their children from behind bars.

So why are so many mothers in prison?

Let’s dive deeper into one of our society’s biggest social issues and what we, as fellow mothers, can do to help.

Imprisoned Mothers

Being a mother, or soon-to-be-mother, in prison comes with its own hardships. Here are some of the challenges faced by mothers in jail:

  • There are many states where women are still handcuffed during child labor and delivery. Women are shackled to their beds during transfer to the hospital and even during labor, as if labor isn’t painful enough.
  • Of all of the women in prison, 66 percent are mothers with dependent children. Yes, mothers are suffering, but their innocent children are suffering even more.
  • Mothers awaiting trial and unable to pay bail are economically disadvantaged against those who can afford bail.
  • Nonviolent convictions, mostly drug offenses, have strict penalties designed to prohibit the distribution of drugs, but have been ineffective. Mothers who are being charged with minuscule drug convictions would benefit more from treatment than from jail time.

Mothers Awaiting Trial

More than a quarter of women in jail are awaiting their trial and haven’t even been convicted yet. For women, pretrial incarceration is more common and more challenging to avoid than for men. Women awaiting trial are trapped behind bars because they can’t afford their designated cash bail.

The average yearly income for women unable to meet bail is $11,071. Meaning, there’s no possible out for women unable to afford a cash bail, leaving them locked up in jail and away from their children. “Innocent until proven guilty,” is not necessarily available to those who aren’t wealthy enough to pay a $10,000 cash bail.

The Impact of Incarceration on Motherhood

Motherhood – the most honorable, selfless, and difficult job on the planet. But how can mothers in prison still be effective parents to their children? They can’t be, or they can only be for a specific visiting time every week. While there are women in prison who have rightly earned their sentence, there are others who have not. Either or, being a mother should not be stripped away from incarcerated women.

Children who have a mother in prison, or either of their parents, experience trials, shame, stigma, and guilt over their situation. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services has officially determined that parental incarceration is an adverse childhood experience. Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to end up living in poverty, depression, and anxiety.

Children who are separated from their mothers often experience stunts in emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development. Those with a lack of parental love and discipline, need a strong support system from other family members. Whether it be an aunt, grandmothers, or older sibling, children with mothers in prison need a place of nurture and comfort.

Women in prison with children are distraught and heartbroken about the separation. But we often forget that the effects are more impactful on the children. As a fellow mother, if your children have a friend from school with a mother in prison, think about ways you can reach out and occasionally provide a family friendly environment for the child.

Studies have shown that mothers in prison face many challenges, as do their children. Instead of locking up women for minor non-violent convictions, treatment, community service, and counseling would be much more beneficial to the justice and social system.

In one Indiana prison, a program allows mothers to raise their newborns. If you want to help mothers in prison, private donations and grants can go a long way. There have been many mothers who have stood up for the cause, but not many changes have been put into effect. Mothers in prison deserve a voice, be that voice, and share our blog on social media and in your community.

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