Saturday, July 10, 2010

'New program gives prisoners chance to mother'

The title of this post is the headline to a Houston Chronicle story published today on:
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative. Mandated by the 80th Texas Legislature, the program gives select state jail inmates the chance to live and bond with their newborns.

Operated out of the Santa Maria Hostel, a northeast Houston facility for troubled women, the program offers young mothers life skills and substance abuse counseling, classes leading to a GED and a crash course in parenting. The idea, said Santa Maria CEO Kay Austin, is to give the baby a wholesome start and the mother an incentive to stay straight.

"Our concern has been with the ability of the mother to form a bond with the baby, but that's not our only concern," Austin said. "The child — that's the big issue here. When you have a child with an attachment disorder, you've got people going through TDCJ again and again. We're trying to break that cycle."

Becky Price, deputy director of TDCJ's rehabilitation programs division, said the state's program is patterned after a similar effort at a Fort Worth federal prison. At its core, the program, which is supported by the University of Texas Medical Branch and other organizations, strives to instill a sense of responsibility in women who previously acted irresponsibly
I'm particularly glad to see this up and running. Recognizing the effects of "attachment disorder" among infant children of prisoners is one of those rare moments when the justice system actually looks ahead beyond the next budget cycle, aiming to prevent problems many years from now instead of just reacting to them. Crime frequently "runs in families," but not because it's genetic. Rather that's typically a function of poisonous familial environments and lousy parenting beginning at the very earliest stages of life. The effects of attachment disorder during this early period can be particularly problematic, setting the stage for a child's behavioral problems that may later implicate the criminal justice system. According to this source:
Children with attachment disorders or other attachment problems have difficulty connecting to others and managing their own emotions. This results in a lack of trust and self-worth, a fear of getting close to anyone, anger, and a need to be in control. A child with an attachment disorder feels unsafe and alone.
That sounds like a profile of kids at risk of getting caught up in the juvenile justice system later in life. Indeed, focusing crime prevention resources on providing support and opportunities for children of incarcerated parents would probably get a lot more long-term bang for the buck than a lot of other things the justice system spends its money on.

About half of inmates and most women inmates are parents, and IMO teaching parenting skills and encouraging positive interactions with their kids is probably more important than, say, getting a GED. Coupled with a prison record, a GED doesn't earn you that many opportunities, but most ex-prisoners who succeed upon reentry do so because of sustaining relationships with their families, which are a lot easier for everybody to maintain if the ex-offender is behaving like a parent. And as this TDCJ program recognizes, behaving like a parent can never begin too early.


Anonymous said...

I am mixed about this. While the nurturing for the child is a good thing, will any residuals be taken with that? Will the incarcerated parent truly be the best option for a newborn?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:42, On the "resuduals" from early nurturing, attachment disorder primarily stems from what happens during infancy. According to the source linked in the post, it's typically caused by:

* A baby cries and no one responds or offers comfort.
* A baby is hungry or wet, and they aren’t attended to for hours.
* No one looks at, talks to, or smiles at the baby, so the baby feels alone.
* A young child gets attention only by acting out or displaying other extreme behaviors.
* A young child or baby is mistreated or abused.
* Sometimes the child’s needs are met and sometimes they aren’t. The child never knows what to expect.
* The infant or young child is hospitalized or separated from his or her parents.
* A baby or young child is moved from one caregiver to another (can be the result of adoption, foster care, or the loss of a parent).
* The parent is emotionally unavailable because of depression, an illness, or a substance abuse problem.

So that early period is obviously the very most critical for maintaining maternal involvement.

As to whether promoting a relationship with the incarcerated parent long-term is the best option, I've struggled with this on a personal level when I was guardian of a troubled young girl with a deceased father and incarcerated mother. Mom was a TERRIBLE influence, like some figure out of Oliver Twist actually encouraging her daughter from a very young age to join her committing crimes (Mom is still incarcerated, fwiw).

For much of that time I thought the best approach was to keep her as far away from Mom as possible, but over the years as my goddaughter continued to struggle emotionally with her parents' absence, it became clear to me that there were emotional needs that only her mother could fulfill, even if she was absolutely goddawful at it. (Later in life, my goddaughter purposely separated herself from her Mom for her own sanity and wellbeing, but it was something that had to happen on her terms and trying to force it created counterproductive, unintended consequences that IMO worsened her behavior.)

Similarly, when you talk to foster parents of kids with incarcerated parents, a common theme is the pure joy the kid experiences on the rare occasions they get to see their (often abusive or neglectful) parent. That's why I say I'd rather inmates receive parental training than a GED. There's something about that fundamental bond that's an important contributor to healthy childhood development. Kids need a relationship with their Mom, even if Mom is a POS. And that earliest period of bonding is a LOT more important, according to the the early childhood development folks, than has been understood in previous generations.

Anonymous said...

We think of children as having a mother. Because of political correctness we don't allow ourselves to admit that they also had a biological father. We don't stop to think that this biological father could have bonded with the child and made a contribution if he wasn't too busy being a player.

Anonymous said...

What happens when a Susan Smith or an Andrea Yates slip into this program? I've worked around pregnant inmates for the past 12 years and I've seen some fight each other at the drop of a hat showing NO regard for their baby. I for one would not want to make the call who enters this program.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, TYC - the Texas Youth Commission, known to many, was the downfall of real help to youth in Texas. Younger people were supposed to be helped under the lege program but that hateful/regressive system only made young peope worse. Place both the adult and junenile sustems together but provide guidance for the younger offenders.

Susan Fenner said...

Thanks for sharing your personal experience and for listing the causes of attachment disorder. Breaking the cycle of children following their parents into prison is one of the goals of the TIFA Storybook Project. We work to strengthen relationships between inmates and their young children. Having children/family to come home to helps inmates maintain good conduct while incarcerated and greatly improves their chances of successful reentry.

One question: What does 'POS' stand for? Probably something I should know, but I can't figure it out. Thanks!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

POS = 'Piece of S---'

Anonymous said...

"...caught up in the juvenile justice system."

When we think of the incarcerated, we refer to them as "...caught up in the justice system." An interesting, and revealing, choice of words. Being "caught up" indicates that one is a passive victim of some unjust system that somehow unfairly snared them for no good reason. I guess the code is that we never admit that the incarcerated criminal actually did something to wind up in prison.

If we ever allow ourselves to be honest, we will realize that the people who are actually "caught up" are the ones caught up in the nightmare created by the criminal.

Anonymous said...

I never hear anyone talk about and planned parenthood. If a disregard for Mom and baby happen, I agee with you about attachment disorder. Why iss the mother pregnant and in jail?
And where is the child's father? I like your blog because you are responsible enough to check the facts. Most of the 501c3's should look at your blog, and try on some truth. Diana, Dana, Laura, and other spreaders of unverifiable facts and just plain lies about inmates and their treatment. thanks

Criminal Defense Attorneys Medford said...

I really have serious doubts that jail for newborns is a good idea.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:57, under this kind of supervision I'm little concerned about an Andrea Yates type episode. Women with postpartum psychosis are easily identifiable when they're under professional care. Plus it's a) very rare and b) those afflicted with it usually kill themselves, not their children. I don't see that happening in a secure prison setting.

1:13, why don't you try reacting to the specific issues being discussed instead of veering off on a tangent to seek out some imaginary "code" in my writings, like all the crazies who read the Da Vinci code and then see Knights Templar hiding behind every tree. You don't need to interpret "code" to read this blog, I pretty much say exactly what I mean. When we're talking about juveniles with attachment disorder, incarcerated parents, etc., you must be a pretty heartless bastard to not recognize that also creates a "nightmare" for the child who endures it.

Anonymous said...

By the context in which it was used, I believe you understood that the meaning of the word code was "a system of rules or expected behavior." Choosing another meaning of the word and throwing in the bit about the Da Vinci code was a cheap ploy to try to make someone who didn't agree with you appear to be advocating some kind of conspiracy theory.

If you remove all personal responsibility you could see them solely as "caught up in the system."

Anonymous said...

About the Da Vinci code allegation:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar yet weaker proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:43/58, look at you! Your comment was NOTHING but a "straw man" and now you've actually gone and learned the term! Good for you!

My point was you're veering off on a tangent and your comment had nothing to do with the topic of the post. I don't think you're advocating a "conspiracy theory," but neither do I think what you said is a) relevant, b) important or c) interesting. Don't bother looking for "code" in what's written here - debate the issue on the table.

Mindy Clark said...

You are correct when you state that having a relationship with a parent is important for children of incarcerated parents. You are also correct when you state that most of those parents could benefit from learning parenting skills.

There is an excellent parenting program developed by the Oregon Social Learning Center (a leader in working with at risk families for over 40 years) and the Oregon Department of Corrections called Parenting Inside Out (PIO). PIO is evidence-based ($2.1 million, 5-year longitudinal study of 350 parents during and after incarceration funded by NIMH)) that has helped many parents develop the skills to become positive influences in their children's lives both from behind bars and after they have released.

Unfortunately, many parenting programs offered to incarcerated parents are made up by individuals on an ad hoc basis and they do not deleiver significant, measurable results (the "crash program in parenting" mentioned in the article is most likely an example). If Departments of Corrections are willing to invest in programs with proven track records, both parents and children will benefit.