The women's prison system, as a consequence of its inmate's sentences, involves separation of mother from child as the mother is no longer physically capable of taking care of them. However, there are those who argue that women should be able to still raise their children if incarcerated; they argue that the 'critical bond' between mother and child must be maintained, and that the children would suffer for being away from their child. Many of these proponents argue that biological mothers should be the only people who care for their child, particularly newborns; however, research and statistical evidence indicates that adoption, foster parenting and other forms of parenting also result in well-adjusted children; therefore, it should not be considered absolutely necessary that biological mothers are the only ones to care for their children.
Women currently comprise a rapidly growing portion of the United States prison population, with the number of women in prison increasing eightfold from three decades previous (Nolan, 2012). To that end, the issue of women in prison raising their children is a necessary and pertinent question. Gender-specific factors related to crime must be kept in mind, as many women are given equally harsh treatment (shackling, etc.) as men, and are equally treated regardless of seriousness of offense. The idea that all mothers are 'bad' because they are in prison must also be dispelled; furthermore, children are argued to still be biologically 'bound' to the mother even after incarceration. Because of this, one could argue that greater exposure to the mother even in prison, during the informative and influential first two years of life, is very important to their development.
Women who are incarcerated cannot take their children into prison with them, thus making it necessary for, at least some of the time, newborn children to be raised separately from incarcerated parents. While prison nurseries are indeed a phenomenon in some parts of the United States and throughout the world, these nurseries are only available to mothers who birth their children after their sentence has begun; this severely limits this resource to mothers who have children before they are incarcerated. Research has shown that there are some positive outcomes for children who are allowed to be raised by their children - lower recidivism rates have been found in female inmates who are allowed to keep their children with them in prison for the first 18 months of life. There have been programs that have resulted in lowering of recidivism rates for female inmates to 9% from 33%; however, this does not account for the recidivism of serious offenders, as they were screened out of the program (Villaneuva, 2009). There are distinct advantages to allowing the biological mother to maintain a relationship with their child in their first few years of life; it significant improves morale for the parent, and allows for stronger built relationships with the child after the mother leaves prison.
That being said, however, it is not the only thing that should be allowed; dangerous mothers and individuals no longer seen fit to care for their children should not be permitted to raise their children. There are no systems in place for children after 18 months to be allowed to be raised by their children, in which case they have to be taken care of by someone else. Adoption and foster parenting are completely viable options for parenting, often resulting in well-adjusted children. While there are increased risks of behavioral problems in adolescence for adopted children, these risks largely go away once they reach adulthood, and are seen as nearly equal or better in psychosocial development than children raised by their biological parents (Feigelman 199). Despite claims that children 'don't belong in prison,' or that mothers who are incarcerated do not deserve to raise their children in prison, the benefits outweigh the advantages of any type of punishment for the woman or potential psychological damage to the child from a prison environment (Smalley, 2009).
In conclusion, the idea of mothers raising children in prison is a not altogether unpleasant or ineffective idea. Prison nurseries and some other initiatives toward that end have resulted in better connection between mother and child during the vital first two years of life, and have indicated lower recidivism rates for the female inmates. However, it is not the only viable way to raise children, as adopted parents and foster parents have also proven equally able to take care of children who are not biologically born to them. Toward that end, while biological mothers are the preferred choice for raising children, it is entirely possible to do it without them if need be.
Feigelman, William. Comparisons with Persons Raised in Conventional Families, Marriage &
Family Review Volume 25, Issue 3, 1997. pp.199-223.
Nolan, Pat.. "Women, Children and Prison." Justice Fellowship. 2012. Retrieved from
Smalley, Suzanne. Bringing up Baby in the Big House. The Daily Beast U.S. News. 2009.
Villanueva, Chandra Kring. Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison
Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives. Rep. 2009. Women's Prison Association.