Mothers face custody and employment challenges upon their re-entry

Incarcerated mothers face challenges re-entering society, especially regaining custody of their children and finding employment.

Upon their release, mothers are more likely to have their parental rights terminated because of their incarceration, according to a 2016 Rutgers University academic paper by Janet Garcia, of the School of Criminal Justice. 

According to the paper, part of the problem lies in society’s belief that criminals are threatening and forceful; this conflicts with the social definition of femininity as delicate and passive.

The paper cites a study conducted by L.E. Glaze and E. Parks that found that female offenders in state correctional facilities are more likely than their male counterparts to have lived with their children pre-incarceration and to have cared for their children daily before their incarceration.

The stigmatization of incarcerated females often breaks toward social and racial lines, “Mothers of color may find themselves at the receiving end of this stigma due to ‘divergent social worlds’, which distinguish them from the ideals of White, middle class mothers,” said Garcia, referencing R.D. Peterson and L.J. Krivo’s 2010 study,  “Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-spatial Divide.”

“Furthermore, stigmatization is often directed toward teenage mothers, ‘welfare moms,’ non-resident mothers, drug addicted mothers, and mothers involved in the criminal justice system.”

The implication of such stigmatization by social and correctional systems may result in mothers who do not live with their children having decreased chances “to be released on their own recognizance pre-trial and, thus receive less compassion compared to other mothers who do live with their children and conform to the norm,” said J. Flavin, author of Punishment and Parenthood: Family-Based Social Control and the Sentencing of Black Drug Offenders.

Mothers can have their parental rights terminated if their child is in the foster care system for 15 months of the previous 22 months, according to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).

“This conflict places (mothers) at risk of losing legal rights to their children despite potential efforts — albeit unrecognized or undervalued — at mothering within the confines of a correctional facility,” said S. Covington, author of  A Women’s Journey Home: Challenges for Female Offenders and Their Children.

Some of the problems children face when their mothers are incarcerated:

An increase in behavioral problem;

Increased aggression;

Rule breaking;

Dropping out of school.

“We must distinguish between what has been said about subordinated groups in the dominant discourse, and what such groups might say about themselves if given the opportunity,” said Patricia Hill Collins, author of Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood.

—John Lam


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