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Incarcerated Mothers & Their Children

The majority of women incarcerated in the U.S. are mothers. Incarcerated mothers face enormous barriers to maintaining contact and relationships with their children, including being placed at great distances from their families, facing limited and costly forms of communication, and enduring dehumanizing visiting policies and spaces that are not child friendly. Mothers with children in foster care also risk losing their parental rights — a horrific collateral consequence of incarceration. Separating children and their mothers through incarceration takes a devastating toll on the social, emotional, and economic well-being of children, families, and communities. Black, Indigenous, people of color, and people from low-income communities bear the brunt of this harm. 

We honor the thousands of mothers behind the walls and those who have come home who, despite the countless barriers imposed by our inhumane criminal legal system, continue to fiercely love, parent, and fight for their children. And we honor the thousands of children whose parents are or have been incarcerated, who battle the stigma and separation unfairly placed on their shoulders, who hold powerful resilience and endless potential, and who fight for their parents right back.

“Mothers and children are separated, and a lot of mothers don’t know their parental rights.… And I was one of them. I was one who lost her two daughters to the system. I was basically forced to give up my parental rights.” 1
“What I'm most proud of my mom is that she struggles but at the end she reaches a success and she finds a way to do things for us.” 4
“No matter what you go through, those are your kids.… Like, at the end of the day those are all you have…. They need to know that you’re there.” 2
“[Y]ou never had enough time. Just when you were beginning to feel a connection it was time to leave, and the sense of disappointment and loss would reappear... the visit gave a sense of comfort to be with my mom. After not being with her and being with so many strangers it felt safe and complete.” 3
“My words of encouragement [to parents who are incarcerated] would be to, first of all, never give up on yourself. Never, ever, give up on yourself. Know that there’s always room to grow. Your yesterday was yesterday, today is a brand new day.” 2
“I’m proud of my mom because she didn’t let this tear her down. She came home and she took her life back.” 4
“I didn’t feel like I could do my birthday without my mom, because I couldn’t see her, and I wanted that to be my birthday gift.” 4
“I needed them to know that mommy didn’t abandon them. They needed to understand that. Mommy made a mistake... and I am coming back for you and I’m fighting for you.” 3
“I always graduated, and I always received an award at graduation. And my mom missed just about every last one of my graduations.” 4
“She always said how much she loved us at the visits, from the beginning to the end.” 4

1 From Introduction to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) Expanded Discretion Law, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, June 28, 2017

2 From Adoption and Safe Families Act Expanded Discretion Law (ASFA) Video for Mothers, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, June 27, 2017

3 From When “Free” Means Losing your Mother: The Collision of Child Welfare and Incarceration of Mothers in New York State. New York: Correctional Association of NY, Women & Prison Project, 2006

4 From I Was Like the Sun, uploaded to YouTube by Women & Justice Project, 2017