Bailing moms out for Mother’s Day
by Wendy Sawyer, May 8, 2017
This Mother’s Day, 120,000 incarcerated mothers will spend the day apart from their children. Over half of all women in U.S. prisons – and 80% of women in jails – are mothers, most of them primary caretakers of their children. An estimated 9,000 women are pregnant upon arrival to prison or jail each year. Yet most of these women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and many are held in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford bail. The good news is this year, you can take action to help reconnect children with their mothers.
National Mama’s Bail Out action
During this week, a collection of over two dozen local and national organizations will bail out as many mothers as possible, who would otherwise spend Mother’s Day in a cell simply because they cannot afford bail. This effort focuses on bailing out Black mothers (including birth, trans, and other women who mother); Black children are seven times more likely than white children to have a parent incarcerated. Over a dozen cities are participating across the country. You can donate bail funds here.
Bills to keep primary caretakers out of prison
In Massachusetts, the “Primary Caretakers” bill (S. 770) would allow parents and other primary caretakers convicted of nonviolent crimes to request a non-prison alternative. Once enacted, courts would make written findings about caregiver status and availability of alternatives before sentencing. Tennessee’s HB 825 and SB 919 follow the model of the Massachusetts bill. If you live in one of these states, you can find your legislator to weigh in on these bills.
Harms to children caused by parental incarceration
Keeping parents out of jail and prison is critical to protect children from the known harms of parental incarceration, including:
- Traumatic loss marked with feelings of social stigma and shame and trauma-related stress
- More mental health problems and elevated levels of anxiety, fear, loneliness, anger, and depression
- Less stability and greater likelihood of living with grandparents, family friends, or in foster care
- Difficulty meeting basic needs for families with a member in prison or jail
- Lower educational achievement, impaired teacher-student relationships, and more problems with behavior, attention deficits, speech and language, and learning disabilities
- Problems getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy diet
- More mental and physical health problems later in life
Incarceration punishes more than just individuals; entire families suffer the effects long after a sentence ends. Mother’s Day reminds us again that people behind bars are not nameless “offenders,” but beloved family members and friends whose presence – and absence – matters.