The Painful Truth about Severing Parental Rights of Incarcerated Women
Date:  04-13-2015

Harsh and often unnecessary sentences rob women and their children of the right to be a family
Motherhood is glorified worldwide, and it should be. Being a mother is probably the most difficult and thankless job a women can have. Women are prone to connect with their child throughout pregnancy. It common that once a child is born a mother becomes besotted with baby and that brings about a natural reaction of becoming fiercely protective.

Most of the women who give birth while incarcerated were sentenced for non violent drug crimes. Studies show that children fare better when kept out of foster care, and that helping a mother to obtain treatment for drug addiction is less costly and more humane for mother and child than prison.

What happens when a mother gives birth while incarcerated, and in most cases the baby is whisked away before bonding begins and parental rights are terminated? Most mothers experience anguish that spurs them to fight for custody of their child after incarceration. Sometimes the child is in the custody of relatives, but that doesn’t make the battle to regain custody any easier. Sometimes that child has been adopted. The collateral consequences for mother and child are staggering.

As part of a series on women and incarceration, RH Reality Check investigated just how easily an incarcerated mother can be stripped of custody of her child, and just how difficult, if not impossible, it is to regain custody:

Five years ago, LaDonna Hopkins was caught stealing clothes from a store in Rock Island County, Illinois. She wasn’t stealing them to wear, but to sell on the street. Still in the grips of what would be an 11-year battle with crack cocaine, Hopkins had assessed her options, and theft seemed the lesser evil.

“When you’re in addiction, there’s only three things you can do,” she told RH Reality Check. “You can rob somebody, or you can prostitute, or you can steal.”

After she was caught, Hopkins was sentenced to five years in Dwight state prison. She was pregnant at the time. She eventually served five months inside, and an additional two-and-a-half years in a women’s treatment center. The penalty may seem severe for a non-violent crime spurred by drug dependency, but for Hopkins the true punishment was not the prison term, but rather the permanent loss of her parental rights to her daughter.

“When I gave birth, I was allowed to spend 48 hours with my daughter in the hospital, and then I was shipped back to prison,” she told RH Reality Check. “She’s four now and I haven’t gotten any closer to getting her back, and I’ve been going to court for three-and-a-half years.”


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