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« A little Lenten humor | Main | The Ultimate Gift of values »

February 27, 2007

Mothers in prison

CNN's 360 aired a three-part story last week, putting a human face on prison statistics. The facts are not a surprise to those of us at Prison Fellowship.

  • 2.2 million Americans behind bars (actually, it's 2.3 now)
  • More people in prison than in any other country
  • Recidivism rates hovering around 50%
  • Tremendous growth in the number of women incarcerated, 70% of whom are mothers

This last statistic, and the children who are affected by it, are what struck the producer of the piece on CNN. Her description of the prison nursery and the little boy who thought he was being punished by having his mother put in jail are particularly poignant.

What is left unsaid is the sad reality that many of these women will lose their children altogether. With fathers who were never involved or are long gone, there is no other parent to care for many of these youngsters. If there are no extended family or willing friends to take care of the child while mom is in prison, mom may have her parental rights terminated and her children may be placed for adoption.

There is a fantastic opportunity here for the Church to get involved.

Some of us at Prison Fellowship heard a few weeks ago of a Mennonite community in Missouri that has banded together to take in children of women prisoners. What a tremendous thing, and how great that they're doing this as a community so the children will presumably know others who are awaiting the release of a mother in jail!

At our national office, we've "adopted" a young woman who gave birth to a child after being raped by a prison guard. Local church volunteers agreed to care for the baby until the mom was released from prison. Our office held a baby shower where we collected big and small things--some new, some used--that any new baby needs. Now, with mom about to leave prison, we've put together a small care package for her with some toiletries, basic supplies, and a grocery gift card. It's a small gesture to help one woman. But imagine what an impact we could have if every church reached out to just one family in this way?

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