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25 July 2010

Prison Shouldn't be a Bar to Motherhood

via The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog by lois on 7/25/10

"By allowing for greater flexibility in the foster care system, New York joins a small group of states that have adjusted their laws, including Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado and California. But in most of the country, parental rights remain in serious jeopardy.
Most women in prison are mothers, and they are five times as likely as imprisoned fathers to have children in foster care. "

Womens eNews
Prison Shouldn't be a Bar to Motherhood
By Rachel Roth, WeNews commentator

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rigid foster care rules threaten to dissolve family ties when mothers are in prison or residential drug treatment. A new law in New York State takes steps to help these families weather the separation.

A 29-year-old woman whose mother went to prison when she was a baby says she is just like any other child.

"I need my mother. I've always needed her and in this way I am no different than any other child. Living away from her--having to live away from her because of something she did--has not changed how much I want her mothering," she said.


However, a well-meaning federal law passed in 1997 all too often overrides this sentiment, arbitrarily and permanently severing family bonds.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act, called ASFA, was intended to prevent children from bouncing indefinitely between foster homes and to increase their chances of being placed with permanent adoptive families. It set rigid time frames by which an absent parent loses legal rights to his or her child. Once a child spends 15 of 22 months in foster care, the foster care agency moves to terminate the parent's rights. Some states adopted even shorter timelines in their versions of the law, moving to terminate parental rights after as little as six months when a child was placed in foster care as a newborn.

Courts can terminate a parent's rights to take care of her child because she is unavailable by virtue of incarceration or residence in a treatment center, even when there is no evidence of child abuse and when the child wishes to be reunited with the parent.

One-third of children who were so "freed" from their biological parents in New York City between 2000 and 2004 were not adopted, according to a report published in 2006 by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York. They stayed in foster care. These children are "legal orphans," children who have a parent but whose relationship to their parent is no longer recognized by the state.

'People Need More Time'

"I think people need more time," said Sharmaine, whose rights were terminated while she was in treatment. "Just because you're incarcerated or in substance abuse treatment doesn't mean that you don't want to be a mother to your child . . . I am his mother biologically, but the law says I'm not his mother."

In June, Gov. David Paterson of New York signed into law the "ASFA Expanded Discretion" bill to ensure that parents like Sharmaine do not lose rights to their children solely for bureaucratic reasons.

The new law allows for foster care agencies and courts to take into account the special circumstances of parents in prison or residential treatment when determining a child's fate. These circumstances include parents' difficulty seeing children in person, difficulty meeting with lawyers or social workers and difficulty making court appearances, especially for women from New York City who are sent to serve their time in distant upstate prisons. The median prison sentence for women in New York is 36 months, longer than the 15-month deadline in effect until the time the law was changed.

The new law also allows for parents to participate in meetings about their children by video conference or other means if meeting in person is impracticable.

Because foster care agencies have not always provided the reunification services that parents in prison are supposed to receive, the new law requires such agencies to give parents information about their rights and responsibilities, as well as referrals to services available to help maintain relationships with their children. (This provision warrants monitoring, as it is not clear how providing referrals would work when parents cannot access services without the assistance of prison or treatment center employees.)

New York Joins Select Group

By allowing for greater flexibility in the foster care system, New York joins a small group of states that have adjusted their laws, including Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado and California. But in most of the country, parental rights remain in serious jeopardy.

Most women in prison are mothers, and they are five times as likely as imprisoned fathers to have children in foster care. (When a father goes to prison, the children are most likely to live with their mother; when a mother is in prison, the children are most likely to live with a grandparent, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.)

ASFA therefore has a disproportionate impact on mothers in prison. Given the overrepresentation of poor women and women of color in prison--and the overrepresentation of poor children and children of color, particularly African American children, in foster care--it takes a heavy toll on already disadvantaged families and communities.

Earlier this year, the American Bar Association adopted new standards for the treatment of people in prison, including a provision saying they should be informed of the consequences for their parental rights of any arrangements contemplated for the care of a child. If put into practice, this standard would ensure that women are aware of the particular timeframes and risks inherent in each state's foster care system.

One of the barriers to changing the 1997 adoption law is the lack of data. In many cases, government agencies simply do not know how many children are in foster care because their parents are in prison, nor how many parents' rights have been terminated for this reason. Where something as fundamental as the parent-child relationship is at stake, governments need to provide a fuller accounting of how public policies affect the families who are subject to them.
New York Activist Example

Activists in other states can learn from the New York experience, which involved a sustained commitment by advocates and policymakers who believe that protecting family bonds is an issue of fundamental fairness.

Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York, says it took four years to get a bill through the legislature and onto the governor's desk. Before that came three years of research and consultations with stakeholders, including affected parents and children.

A critical part of the organizing strategy was to highlight the perspectives of women directly affected by the law.

Formerly incarcerated mothers met with legislators and spoke out at public events. Those still in prison wrote letters, which the Coalition for Women Prisoners collected and turned into a book, along with letters from children of imprisoned mothers.

One contributor to the book describes the pain of losing her children: "As the clock ticked away, I remained in constant fear wondering which monthly visit would be our last . . . I was told that if I agreed to a conditional surrender agreement then I would be allowed limited communication (cards, letters and photos) with my sons. Sadly, these stipulations were never honored . . . I love my sons! I want what I was promised, when I acted in good faith, and signed my agreement!"

Implementation of the new law should spare other families this fate.

http://www.womensenews.org/story/incarceration/100722/prison-shouldnt-be-bar-motherhood
This and other news about women and mass incarceration can be found at www.realcostofprisons.org/blog/

Rachel Roth writes about reproductive politics and the impact of imprisonment on women's rights and health. She is the author of the book "Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights."

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

The Best Movie I've Ever Seen About Homelessness

via Change.org's End Homelessness Blog by Becky Blanton on 7/25/10

Filmmaker Jeff Hess didn't realize what he was getting himself into when he went looking for music for a soundtrack for one of his movies. He'd heard a homeless man playing guitar and thought he was pretty good, so he approached him about recording some music. And he got sucked into Mike Imperio's story because it was so much like his own he couldn't understand why he hadn't ended up the same way.

Jeff, a chemical engineer who joined the Navy right out of high school, was born in Portland, Oregon. He attended Oregon State University in Corvalis, Oregon after he got out of the service. Then what intrigued him was how we are raised, what we know, how the early influences of our lives impact us. So he followed Mike around, met his family and interviewed his sister at length. Out of his time came a full-length documentary: Never Walk Away.

"It wasn't that I planned to do a film on homelessness and found these guys," Jeff told me. "I planned to do another film and this film just happened instead."

After filming Never Walk Away and spending time with Mike and the others, he's very familiar with the issues they face — including being shot at by fraternity boys along an alley where many of the homeless collect cans.

In 2004, around the time Jeff was filming this movie, an OSU fraternity boy named Josh Grimes deliberately shot a homeless man (not Mike) in the thigh with a .22 rifle. His sentence in 2007? 400 hours of community service and $3,000 in restitution, as well as just 150 days in jail. The problem is, Josh wasn't the first nor the last to shoot at the homeless in that alley.

"They're scared," Jeff told me. "They don't know when they'll be shot at."

Having read the news accounts of the shooting and watching the movie, it angered me to see the alley where the shooting happened, and saddened to see men dumpster-diving in the alley even after the shooting. It's hard not to feel compassion for Mike and his friends, but it's also hard not to understand why the citizens of Corvalis are frustrated, angry and tired of the homeless as well.

Jeff doesn't pull any punches. His camera shows the trash and garbage and the impact of homeless camps on wetlands and the parks around Corvalis. The homeless in this movie are, as the stereotype goes, alcoholics. But they're addicts with a story as well. Some make it out, some don't. As Jeff told me, there is no simple, fast, clean or easy solution to the homeless question. But of all the videos I've seen on the chronic homeless, and on those with an alcohol or drug problem, this is the best. I've watched it three times. I hope you'll take time to do the same.

Jeff has tried unsuccessfully to show the film in Corvalis, but he's hoping that by posting it online he'll raise awareness about homelessness and start conversations among those who are quick to see the homeless as stereotypes, not people. To see the movie free in its entirely, go to: .

Photo credit: NeverWalkAway.com

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

What about some ME TIME

via Prison Talk by myluv4ever on 7/25/10

What about me is the question??? We are all here for our loved ones right??? We send them packages, money, letters, our love, put money on the accts so they can call & go visit them etc. On top of that we do these things as follow:
Work
go to school
pay bills
take care of the kids such as taking/picking them up from school/daycare, making sure their homework is done, taking them to practice softball/football or dance etc
cook dinner
shopping 4 the kids/house
cleaning house
Which is GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!
After all that is said and done @..the end of the day you've sent him/her out a package, accepted a phone , wrote a letter, cooked dinner,feed the kids gave them a bath and put them to bed& cleaned the house. :)
What have you done 4 yourself. I know that for alot of us its just like a habit that we've gotten ourselves into which is not bad don't get me wrong. We have to do it:)
Just step back for a moment and ask yourself .
Sorry this thread is so long but I just would like to know if you have any ME time for youself? If so what is it that you do? If not you Deserve IT.. try it sometimes:) As for myself I put a little$$ up so I could have some ME time once every two weeks. I step away from the prison life & home and go out to dinner with a girlfriend, or buy myself a pair of socks, nice panty/bra set, get my nails done , a book etc. It dont have to be much but just a little something for yourself it will make you feel good :)

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

In a Word

via Futility Closet by Greg Ross on 7/25/10

chantpleure
v. to sing and cry at the same time

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Interventions to Reduce HIV Transmission Related to Injecting Drug Use in Pr...

via New Library Documents on 7/25/10

Individuals interested in the use of drug injection intervention programs in prisons to reduce HIV transmission will want to read this article. It offers suggestions on how your agency can effectively implement intervention programs that address drug injection use, thus impacting the spread of HIV through the prison population and eventually, upon the prisoners release back to the community, the transmission to the public. Sections of this article cover: drug dependence and injecting drug use among prisoners; HIV and HVC transmission resulting from drug use in prisons; strategies to address the risks associated with drug use; and mandatory drug testing programs (MDTs).

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

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