The dramatic increase in the number of women in prison in this country is a result of changes in criminal justice policy that were intended to 'take a bite out of crime' and wage a 'war on drugs'. The consequences of these policies for women is seldom mentioned and even less is heard about their impact on children.
According to the Department of Justice, 76.4% of the women in State prisons are mothers compared to 59.6% of male prisoners who are fathers . In most cases the children of incarcerated men live with their mothers before, during and after their fathers' incarceration (Johnston, n.d.). When mothers are sent to prison, their children are most likely to live with a grandparent or other relative (75.2%). Consequently, when mothers are sent to prison, children are likely to experience greater disruption than when a father is imprisoned.
Harm & Thompson (1995) found that the majority (84%) of relatives caring for children during their mother's imprisonment experienced major changes in their lives. Problems they encountered included finding child care, lack of transportation for children to visit their mothers, financial set-backs, giving up jobs, and relocating.
Similar findings are reported by Hungerford (1993). While trying to resolve these problems, care givers must contend with their own feelings of anger, guilt and fear about the mother's imprisonment. .
The children that relatives take into their homes may be less than angelic. Children who have been.
exposed to domestic violence, substance abuse, or child abuse/neglect, and separated from their mothers can exhibit behaviors that are difficult to manage.
Maintaining the relationship between children and their incarcerated mother can also be difficult. This can drain minimal financial resources that are already being stretched - especially when relatives live at a great distance from the state's women's prison.
AARP's Grandparent Information Center found that grandparents caring for their children's children face many barriers when they seek help (Mullen, 1995).