Prison Parenting in Texas

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From time to time there are glimmers of hope in the often bleak landscape of Texas criminal justice policy. Rarely do those glimmers also resonate positively – much less progressively – with the welfare of women and children. But this story from the Houston Chronicle features a new program that scores on both fronts. It features a program called the Texas Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative (I’ll forgive the choke-me acronym, “BAMBI”), a legislatively mandated program that permits prisoners who give birth in Texas’s state jails the opportunity to continue to parent their children, with supervision and parenting education, rather than surrender them to the foster care system. The story alludes to a number of limitations on the program that are concerning, and which I have not yet investigated: eligibility (only “select” prisoners may participate, certain offenses are disqualifying, and at least one online source – the Texas Department of Criminal Justice itself – indicates here that as of April of this year only three mothers had been placed in the program – ); issues concerning support for the child during the “brief” periods when the mothers apparently are not permitted contact; what sort of post-program follow-up exists to maintain the program’s gains when the mothers and their children return to their pre-jail environments and relationships. But certainly in theory, the program appears to be on the right track. And, it puts Texas (don’t laugh) at the forefront of reform in the arena of the effects of imprisonment on mothers, children, and families: Only a handful of states operate prison nurseries or other programs that afford incarcerated mothers the opportunity to parent. With some (though to my knowledge limited) data seeming to show a correlation between these sorts of parenting-facilitation programs (e.g. nurseries, in-prison bonding time) and reduced recidivism rates, one wonders what’s holding back the rest of the country. Hmmm.

-Jennifer Laurin

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