Ask any mother, and she’ll tell you mothering is the most challenging task she’s ever faced. This life-altering role, however, can be nearly impossible for incarcerated mothers. Jail and prison policies, long distances, and concerns about the effect of seeing her mother in jail on a child can all affect the frequency and quality of a mother’s contact with her child.
It’s easy to rush to judge incarcerated mothers, which is part of the reason jails receive so little pressure to change policies. But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of incarcerated women are nonviolent offenders convicted of petty drug offenses and similar crimes. Many are in jail on probation violations as minor as having forgotten to show up for a meeting with a probation officer.
You don’t have to believe that incarcerated mothers don’t deserve to be in jail, or even that they’re good people, to support their rights to see their children, though. The children of incarcerated mothers suffer penalties for crimes they didn’t commit when they’re deprived of meaningful relationships with their parents.
The damage can extend even further. Children deprived of their parents are more likely to experience drug dependency, mental health problems, and academic difficulties, all of which can exact a heavy social cost.
Prison Visitation Schedules
Most jails and prisons have very strict visitation schedules that only permit one or two visits per week. These visits may be even further limited by, for example, decreeing that inmates may only have one visitor per visitation period. This can effectively exclude children, who almost by definition cannot get to a jail without the assistance of an adult.
Visitation times often occur during school hours or are limited to a very brief slot during the weekend. Late visitors or visitors who can’t miss school or work don’t get to see their mothers. Moreover, weekly visits are simply insufficient to sustain meaningful parent-child relationships.
While most jails and prisons allow inmates to use the telephone, its use is often severely restricted.