Children in the Prison System


What happens to children when their mothers are incarcerated, and there is no father in the home? In prisons throughout the United States, 80% of all female inmates are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and 80% are mothers of vulnerable children. There is no ignoring the facts. Crime, single parent families, and the jobless rate have skyrocketed over the last few decades, and with these drastic changes comes the rising statistic of women entering the prison system. Unfortunately when a woman becomes incarcerated and there is no other parent in the home, a choice must be made on where to place the children that are left behind.

Prisons That Allow Children To Stay

There are many factors to consider when allowing a child to see their parent in a controlled environment. It is better for the inmate who has maintained contact with supportive individuals such as family and friends, and who has a safety net for when she returns to the community. Children, family and friends provide a feeling of belonging. Many prisons allow for children to stay with their mother until a certain age, usually 3 or 5 years of age, depending on the facility. This is a controversial subject that has both its good and bad points. Experts say that a child’s personality is formed by age 4, so a life in the prison system could eventually lead them to believe that this is a way of life. With proper care it could possibly not affect the child at all.

Damaging Affects or Not

When mothers are sent to prison, it is the children that really suffer the severe punishments of having an absentee parent, and chances are that the mothers would not have won any parenting awards to begin with, but many times there is no other place for the child other than foster care. These children face an uphill battle no matter what the outcome may be, but where they end up staying during a parent’s incarceration is key to their future. A child that is nurtured is almost certain to flourish, and being kept away from his or her mother could prove to be damaging. However, there are experts that believe that it is in the best interest of the children to stay with their mothers until they are ready to enter the school system. The biggest concerns involved with the decisions of allowing children to remain in the prison system with their mothers was re-establishing a relationship, regaining custody, health problems, the child’s emotional state and the child becoming distant due to a lack of guidance from the mother not physically being there for the child. It is commonly believed that the move is better for the development of the child and will help motivate female inmates to behave inside prison and to become an incentive for good behavior long after they are released.

Babies in the Prison System

A psychological study of babies in prisons with their mothers found a gradual decline in their development of movement and cognitive skills. It was assumed that this was because the prison environment restricts exercise and exploration. Once babies start to sit up, crawl and walk, there are few opportunities for prison babies to explore. Instead, they spend more time confined to baby walkers, bouncers and pushchairs. The study found a significant increase in the babies’ general development after the mothers’ release.

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