SHARED: Separation has a huge impact on incarcerated mothers and their children

LINCOLN, Ill. (AP) — Dressed in her Sunday vest of pink frilly sleeves and a rainbow tulle tutu, Crystal Martinez’s 4-year-old daughter wears colorful flowers made from carefully crafted tissue paper flowers. I proudly presented the bouquet to my daughter. Laughing happily as she held her five-year-old son on her lap, Ms. Martinez held out her arms and hugged her so tightly that her glasses tilted.

“I want you! I don’t want flowers,” Martinez said, smiling and hugging the children.

Martinez’s five children, including three aged 13, 10 and 6, traveled last month to visit her at Logan Correctional Facility, Illinois’ largest state prison for women and transgender. , came three hours from Chicago. Reunion ride. This donation-dependent initiative travels 180 miles (290 km) by bus from the city to Logan each month so that prisoner families can spend time with their mothers and grandmothers.

Myra Martinez, 6, and her four siblings spend time together and devote themselves to their mother, Crystal Martinez, during a special visit at the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, Saturday, May 20, 2023. say hello to Inmates say unusual programs like the Reunification Ride, a donation-dependent initiative that shuttles monthly buses from Chicago to Illinois’s largest women’s prison so families can spend time with their mothers and grandmothers. is an important lifeline for families. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

The number of women imprisoned in the United States has dropped by tens of thousands due to the coronavirus pandemic. But as the criminal justice system returns to normal operations and prison populations gradually return to pre-pandemic levels, more children are being separated from their mothers, and children are suffering from health and behavioral problems. They are at increased risk and exposed to abuse and displacement.

Black and Hispanic women are more likely than white women to be incarcerated and are disproportionately affected by the family fragmentation of incarceration.

Women bound by Logan describe a unity ride. Increasingly rare and underfunded programs As an essential lifeline, it is designed to keep families together.

“Thank God it does at least once a month. Lynn Allen said.

Children and their parents gathered in the parking lot of a Southside storefront at 7 a.m., cloudy-eyed and excited. The host will hand out snacks, games, water and coloring supplies upon departure.

Three hours later, a charter bus pulled up at the barbed-wire gates of a facility in Lincoln, Illinois, looking out the window at the children. As the family slowly made their way through security, they heard a cry of “Mama!” The prison gymnasium, lit with handcrafted decorations, fills with cheers of joy.

Prisoners create decorations for the visit, including colorful paper flowers, butterflies, family photos framed in construction paper, and even a bouquet of flowers given to Martinez by her daughter. You cannot bring anything other than essential items such as diapers.

The number of women incarcerated in the U.S. fell by about 30% from 2019 to 2020, to 146,000, according to the report. U.S. Department of Justice data. The nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative attributed the decline to stalled court proceedings, temporary process changes, and efforts to reduce prison populations due to the pandemic.

However, the population of women’s prisons and detention centers has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“There are more and more separated families,” said Alexis Mansfield, reunion ride coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Justice.

almost 58% of women in state or federal prisons are parents According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black and Latino women are more likely to be incarcerated than white women for underage children in the United States and are about as likely or more likely to become parents.

Like women, much less likely Mansfield said they are more likely than men to be imprisoned and their imprisonment can have a huge impact on families. She has seen children reunited with their mothers after months or years of imprisonment “quickly open up about being abused or facing difficulties at school.” .

“The bond between mother and child is very strong, and all too often children are helpless and vulnerable without seeing their mother,” she said.

Gina Feddock, professor of social work, policy, and practice at the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, studies the well-being of marginalized women, especially those in prison.

Programs like the Reunification Ride that offer regular visits are rare in the United States, Fedok said.

“Most states don’t have that opportunity,” she says. “We really lack consistent resources, especially this kind of transport program.”

Researchers at the University of Chicago found only one similar effort in a nationwide survey. children of time Fedok said in New York.

Children whose mothers are imprisoned are frequently displaced or enrolled in child welfare schemes, as imprisoned women tend to be the primary caregivers and are often the breadwinners. he said.

According to the Act, the effects of this type of “ambiguous loss” of a parent can lead to an increased risk of health problems, developmental delays, behavioral problems and educational problems. This is because children who move in with different caregivers often have to change schools suddenly. researcher.

“[Children]fall through the cracks really easily,” says Fedok.

Maintaining the maternal bond can reduce “the traumatic impact of parental incarceration on children and their families,” Fedok explained. “Any constraint on parents also constrains the parenting relationship.”

Nia Pritchett said she would never have met her mother, Latonia Dextra, without the reunion ride. Before the trip, the 27-year-old had not seen Dextra in person for three years.

Pritchett, who lives an hour away from Chicago, got up at 4 a.m. to catch a bus.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “My mother has missed so many hours from our lives. Little moments like this mean a lot.”

Dextra has been serving a 28-year sentence and has been incarcerated since Pritchett was a child. During her visit, she braided Pritchett’s bright red curls into a crown.

“It felt like a little girl,” said Pritchett.

Pritchett cried as she recounted the time she spent without her mother. Dextra hugged her and wiped her tears.

Dextra said the children have given her hope and that “this program means a lot.”

Reunification Ride, once a receptacle for public funding, ran out of money in 2015 in Illinois. Two years of budget stalemate, has been adopted by a non-profit organization that relies on crowdsourcing and volunteers to keep the program alive. Each trip costs about $3,000 to $3,500.

“We realized this was unstoppably important,” Mansfield said.

Erica Ray is serving a 42-year sentence for armed robbery and murder. Her 23-year-old daughter, Jada Ledger, was just seven when her mother was indicted. Lesure is now visiting with her 4-year-old son.

Ray said the program is a child-friendly, welcoming alternative to the rigid rules typical of visits through glass or in small visitor spaces where children find it difficult to sit still without games or meals. provide a viable alternative.

“I never had a program like this,” said Ray, as Jada was a kid, watching her grandchildren running happily at the gym.

But even as an adult, Ledger said: Everyone needs a mother. “

Ray laments that it will take a long time to get home.

“There is no way to punish parents and not punish children,” she said. SHARED: Separation has a huge impact on incarcerated mothers and their children

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