Written by Chene Manley

Most of us have been so focused on helping the incarcerated become better people and productive citizens that we almost forget these women have children. Are these women really taught how to deal with real life scenarios? How can we teach them about rejoining a family without knowing what they are really stepping into? So, this quarter we asked 48 women still housed at the Arizona Department of Corrections the following questions:

Do you have children or step children?
Prior to incarceration were your children living with you?
If not, where were they living?
If yes, where are your children living now?
Do you still have communication with your children?
Do your children get to visit you?
What challenges has your children faced since your incarceration?
What do you think would help your relationship with your children during your incarceration?
What do you think would help your relationship with your children once released?

Most of the incarcerated women are single parents. What happens to their children when they are incarcerated? The results of this poll were heart wrenching to say the least but this article will give you a peek into their world.

Do you have children or step children?

Out of the 48 women that we spoke with only 5 women did not have children. So this means that 43 families were broken up for one reason or another. The average number of children amongst these women were 3 with 7 being the highest. We wanted to know how many of these children were actually living with these parents prior to arrest. 

Were your children living in the home with you prior to your incarceration?

We went into this poll believing these women were separated from their children when they were incarcerated. We were surprised to find that long before they were incarcerated a good portion of these women for one reason or another did not have their children living in the home with them. If you view the graph to the left you will see that 33% of the women were not living with their children when they were arrested. An additional 15% had only some of their children living with them but not all of their children. And there were 42% of the children living in the home with their mother when the women came to prison. There were 10% of women that this question was not applicable to due to not having any children. So, if the roughly 48% of the children were not living with their mothers where were these children living?

Where were these children living prior to their mother’s incarceration?

Though the following question was not a part of the original survey we shortly realized we needed to ask the elusive question-where were these children living if not with their mother. For the answer to this question please review the chart to the left of this paragraph. We learned that most of these children 28% of them-were living with their grandparents. An additional 14% were adults at the time of the arrest or were living with their father. The rest of the children were scattered between friends and family. While another 7% of the women were pregnant when arrested.

Where are the children that were living with their mother prior to her incarceration?

Having answered the elusive question we went on to ask what happened to the children who were separated from their mother due to incarceration. Where did these children go? See the chart to the right for the top 5 responses. I wanted to point out that children being homeless, deceased, or adopted only took up .03% but to me that is still too much. How are these women taught how to deal with children who have lost care takers, siblings, or faced other traumatic events while their mother was incarcerated? If you are a volunteer or would like to volunteer for this type of support keep this in mind. We need to teach these women to pick up the pieces with these families after tragedies.

In conclusion, we want to help these children and their parents but we need help from our communities and volunteers to do so. In order to get at the heart of these issues we have to first get the word out. People need to know that these issues exist. We need to keep in mind that one day these women and children may be living in our communities someday. With that being said I dare to say these are not their children but our children.
Arouet Foundation
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