September 27, 2018
"'You Miss So Much When You’re Gone': The Lasting Harm of Jailing Mothers Before Trial in Oklahoma"
The title of this post is the title of this big new report produced by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. Here is part of the report's starting summary:
Every day in Oklahoma, women are arrested and incarcerated in local jails waiting — sometimes for weeks, months, a year, or more — for the disposition of their cases. Most of these women are mothers with minor children.
Drawing from more than 160 interviews with jailed and formerly jailed mothers, substitute caregivers, children, attorneys, service providers, advocates, jail officials, and child welfare employees, this report shows how pretrial detention can snowball into never-ending family separation as mothers navigate court systems and insurmountable financial burdens assessed by courts, jails, and child welfare services....
While most women admitted to jails are accused of minor crimes, the consequences of pretrial incarceration can be devastating. This report finds that jailed mothers often feel an added, and unique, pressure to plead guilty so that they can return home to parent their children and resume their lives. These mothers face difficulties keeping in touch with their children due to restrictive jail visitation policies and costly telephone and video calls. Some risk losing custody of their children because they are not informed of, or transported to, key custody proceedings. Once released from jail, they are met with extensive fines, fees, and costs that can impede getting back on their feet and regaining custody of their children.
Women are the fastest growing correctional population nationwide and since the 1990s, Oklahoma has incarcerated more women per capita than any other US state. Local jails (which typically house people prior to conviction, sentenced to short periods of incarceration, or awaiting transfer to prisons for longer sentences) are a major driver of that growth. On a single day, the number of women in jails across the US has increased from approximately 8,000 in 1970 to nearly 110,000 in 2014, a 1,275 percent increase, with rural counties accounting for the largest growth rate. Many times more are admitted to jail over the course of a year.
The growth in women’s incarceration also means growth in the number of jailed mothers, which has doubled since 1991. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of women in prisons and nearly 80 percent of women in jails are mothers with minor children. A study conducted by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that a majority of incarcerated mothers lived with and were the sole or primary caretaker of minor children prior to their incarceration.
This means that when mothers go to jail or prison, their children are more likely not to have a parent left at home, and can either end up with other relatives or in foster care. One in 14 children in the US, or nearly six million children, have had a parent behind bars, which researchers identify as an adverse childhood experience associated with negative health and development outcomes. Children of color are disproportionately impacted by parental incarceration, with one in 9 Black children having had an incarcerated parent compared to one in 17 white children.
Jailed mothers are often dealing with a myriad of issues prior to their incarceration, which is why comprehensive support is essential to keep families together, disrupt cycles of incarceration, and to preserve human rights to liberty, due process, equal protection, and family unity. Losing contact with and custody of their minor children should not be a consequence of arrest and criminal prosecution.
While nationally and in Oklahoma the rate of women’s incarceration is garnering increasing attention, many barriers to achieving necessary reforms remain.
Human Rights Watch and the ACLU urge Oklahoma and other states to require the consideration of a defendant’s caretaker status in bail and sentencing proceedings, expand alternatives to incarceration, facilitate the involvement of incarcerated parents in their children’s lives and proceedings related to child custody, and substantially curb the imposition of fees and costs, which can impede reentry and parent-child reunification.
September 27, 2018 at 06:47 AM | Permalink
Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Sep 27, 2018 3:00:10 PM