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Family Bonds Behind Bars

OPB | Aug. 9, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:33 p.m.

Women are seven percent of the U.S. prison population, and more than half of them of them have children under 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. One new mom in Washington who caught our attention will be going to prison after she plead guilty to vehicular homicide. She wants to take her baby with her. The state’s women’s prison near Gig Harbor allows some inmates to raise their babies — if the crime is non-violent AND if the baby is born while the mother is incarcerated, among other criteria. Adding another wrinkle, a new sentencing alternative for some non-violent parents — moms and dads — recently went into effect.

Oregon’s many prison parenting programs do not include provisions for mothers to raise their babies behind bars. The numbers are striking: according to Coffee Creek Superintendent Nancy Houghton, about 80 percent of her inmates are mothers, and at any given time a dozen or so inmates are pregnant. Houghton says Oregon’s wide variety of programs (for both men and women) do reflect a commitment to maintain family bonds.

Did you do time as a parent of a baby or young child? How did you maintain your family relationships during your sentence? What would you have wanted? Do you work with incarcerated parents or their children? What’s the most fair and effective way for states to support strong family bonds, especially for inmates who are parents of young children?

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