When you think of women in prison, here's a word that probably doesn't come to your mind: mom. But it should. About two-thirds of the 115,000 women in prison in the U.S. are mothers. That's a lot of missed good-night kisses and first days of school. And a new report shows that many states, including Illinois, get a failing grade when it comes to taking care of pregnant moms serving time.
The Chicago Reporter chronicled how children of the incarcerated bear a huge burden and aren't always getting the help they need for their fractured families. But a new report from the Rebecca Project for Human Rights shows that even before they are born, these children and their mothers may not be getting adequate health care.
It's pretty much common knowledge that pregnant women should see the doctor regularly for checkups, eat right, be screened for diseases like HIV or diabetes. But The Rebecca Project found no evidence of Illinois providing these services to moms-to-be behind bars.
On some of the other policies, Illinois fared better. The state has a law against shackling women during delivery, unlike many states that still allow the practice. Illinois also has a small prison nursery system and an addiction treatment center for moms and their children.
Even though women make up a fairly small percentage of the entire prison population, that number has been on the rise. Since the 1980s, when mandatory minimums for drug offenses were first instituted, the female prison population has risen 400 percent, according to the Rebecca Project. In fact, the percent of women in prison for drug offenses is now actually higher than what it is for men, even though most of these women are non-violent, first-time offenders.
I visited Illinois' alternative incarceration center for women and their kids - the Women's Treatment Center - a few years ago when they were dealing with state budget cuts. Less funding meant that they had to close an entire wing and shut down a transitional living center that served these women. There I met Melissa who was convicted of selling drugs when her daughter was just six weeks old. Listen to her tell her story.
Programs like the Women's Treatment Center help some, but they don't reach everyone. Until they do, organizations like the Rebecca Project will be questioning how moms are treated behind bars and trying to figure out the best ways to help them and their kids.