On March 12, 2013, the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Training program at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) hosted the seminar “Shattering Families: How Mass Incarceration Harms Parents and Children.” This seminar featured two speakers: Gail Smith, Senior Policy Director at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), and a Visible Voices speaker. Visible Voices is a group composed of formerly incarcerated women who speak out and share their experiences with others. A diverse crowd of individuals from within and beyond the UIC School of Public Health assembled to hear these two speakers discuss issues related to the mass incarceration of all women and, in particular, of mothers.

Ms. Smith presented information on the scale of this issue, outlining the dramatic rise of incarceration in the United States over the past 40 years and how rates in this country are much higher than those in other developed nations. The female prison population grew by 832% between 1977 and 2007. About 80% of these women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and 80-85% of all incarcerated women are mothers. Ms. Smith outlined how this leads to several unique issues for the children of these women. For example, if a mother is her child’s sole caregiver, the child will be transitioned into the care of another family member or the foster care system. The latter is of particular concern since the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 allows for termination of parental rights if any child is in foster care for 15 of the 22 previous months. She then discussed how everyone impacted by the criminal justice system would benefit from a restorative justice approach, which focuses on healing rather than punishing. The Visible Voices speaker then put a face to all of these statistics as she shared a powerful, personal account of her experiences with the criminal justice system and how her incarceration directly impacted her sons.

For more information on this issue and to learn how to become involved, please visit CLAIM’s website: http://www.claim-il.org/.

 

This blog entry was written by MCHP student, Nicole Gonzalez who also organized this event.