Formerly Incarcerated Moms Fight for Reforms to Save Families
Date:  03-22-2016

Victoria Law lists four policies that can prevent formerly incarcerated women from losing their children, their jobs, and housing
The following article was originally posted in Yes! Magazine.

Two-thirds of women behind bars are mothers of children under the age of 18, and even a short stint in jail can cause them to lose their jobs, housing, and kids. Here are four policies to help prevent that.

By Victoria Law

Dianna waited at the bus stop for her children to arrive from school one afternoon 20 years ago. She had planned a party to celebrate her daughter’s sixth birthday.The party, however, never happened. Dianna’s four kids never came home.

After calling the school, Dianna, who asked not to be fully named because her record is now sealed, learned that child welfare officials had taken her children to foster care. The reason? Her daughter, after seeing a neighbor with a blunt, had said, “Oh, my mom used to smoke that.” Dianna says this innocuous comment, combined with her criminal record, led to a 10-year battle with the state in family court. Ultimately, she relinquished her parental rights.

For years, Dianna had struggled with addiction. She gave birth to her oldest daughter during the two years she spent in prison. By the time she was standing at the bus stop, though, she had been sober for several years. But losing her children undid all the progress and stability she’d built over the years, spiraling Dianna back into addiction, arrests, and incarceration. “It was the worst I ever relapsed,” she says.

Eighteen years later, a message appeared in her Facebook inbox. “Are you my mom?” It was her son. That December, Dianna spent her first Christmas with her now-adult children. She cooked them Spanish rice, pork chops, salad, and some cheesecake for dessert. “They ate my food,” she says, “and they loved my food.”

Now, she works to make sure no other mother loses her kids to the system. Nearly two-thirds of women behind bars are mothers of children under the age of 18. Not all women who are arrested and jailed are sentenced to prison, but even a short stint can cause them to lose their jobs, housing, and children. For some, like Dianna, a past checkered with arrests and jail time is enough to rip apart their families. Formerly incarcerated mothers who have borne the brunt of the consequences from systemic mass incarceration are leading the fight—and winning—for protections that would not only help mothers rebuild their lives, but also help keep them out of prison in the first place.

Continue to read Law’s article including the four policies to prevent formerly incarcerated women from losing custody of their children here.