by Lillian Hewko
poem by D.R.
I took a plea
To save the precious one
Growing inside of me.
The truth shall set me free.
For now, I am just the property of the DOC.
Behind the razor wire fence
Is where my life lies.
Hopefully time flies.
Meanwhile, my heart cries.
Slowly but surely I
Will find the wonderful
Person I use to be inside.
I signed my name on that
To obtain a better career
And to find a more stable mind.
God gave me a sign.
And up the ladder of faith
I will climb.
I work with D.R, a mother of three, at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. I received this poem from her along with a letter explaining that she had received a phone call at the prison informing her that it was the second day of her termination of parental rights trial for her two older children. Her rights were permanently terminated without being afforded the right to be present at trial.
Stories like D.R.’s exemplify why we must support SHB 1284 in order to help prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their incarcerated parents (more info here, and action needed now below.) Her story also reminds us that there are real people behind statistics:
- The rate at which women used drugs actually declined from 1986-1996, but the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses increased by 888%.
D.R. is serving time for non-violent a drug related offense, an offense that 20 years ago may not have carried prison time at all. She is headed to work release and will be out by September 2013.
- The vast majority of incarcerated women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, other forms of sexual assault, and/or battering. Most have been abused by multiple people.
D.R. is a survivor of domestic violence and was separated from her children initially as punishment for the “failure to protect” her children from domestic violence—a policy largely discouraged by domestic violence advocates because it places the blame on the victim and does not serve to protect victims or their children from the violence perpetrated against them. Further, separation anxiety is greater for children who witness domestic violence and are subsequently separated from their mother.
- Studies show the correlation between trauma related to gender violence and subsequent drug and/or alcohol addiction in women.
D.R. experienced hopelessness after the loss of her children related to her domestic abuse situation. D.R. was not treated for the abuse she experienced. The lack of resources and alternatives largely led her to turn to cope with illegal substances, leading to her charges and current sentence.
- Only 1 in 5 women in state prisons with a history of substance abuse and 1 in 8 women in federal prisons receive treatment for substance abuse.
Luckily, D.R. is serving the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA), so she receives a priority for substance abuse treatment. Mothers who are not on DOSA usually remain on a waitlist. Due to the current timeline requiring termination after children are in out of home care for 15 of the last 22 months, despite the fact that she was in compliance with all of her case planning requirements, the state moved to terminate her parental rights on her older children.
- Nationwide, an estimated 85% of women who are incarcerated are mothers, and more than half have children under 18.
D.R. is the mother of 3 children under 18, ages 9, 3 and 6 ½ months. D.R. gave birth to her son last September while serving her sentence. Because of the above failure to protect finding on her record she was unable to participate in the residential parenting program to keep her son with her.
- In 2004, more than half of parents housed in a state correctional facility had never had a personal visit from their child(ren), and almost half of parents in a federal facility had experienced the same.
D.R. did not receive visits with her children until the very end of her dependency case, a factor that makes it difficult to maintain parental rights in the face of termination.
- The chances that an incarcerated mother will permanently lose her parental rights has doubled since 1995.
Just last month, without being afforded the right to be present at the trial, D.R. permanently lost her parental rights to her two older children. The termination stemmed from the state agency’s finding of “failure to protect from domestic violence” and the fact that the federal timeline had come up. She was called on the second day and informed that the trial was taking place unbeknownst to her. She still maintains rights to her baby, but her baby is now in foster care, and it is likely that she will be fast-tracked to lose her rights to him as well. The state can move to terminate her parental rights against the baby as soon as 6 months after the baby was declared dependent on the state.
SHB 1284 will give courts the guidance and discretion needed to make individualized family specific determinations that are needed in difficult cases like D.R.’s. Please help us by taking action and support SHB 1284 today.
Help get SHB 1284 (Children of Incarcerated Parent’s Bill) on the Senate floor for a vote! Please call and/or email your Senator and ask them to vote to pass SHB 1284. You can find your Senator here:
Dear Senator _______,
I am writing in support of SHB 1284. I believe that incarcerated parents need a fair chance to work toward reunification. We need to give the court the discretion and guidance, when necessary, to find safe permanency options that do not involve severing familial ties forever.
[Add personal story, if applicable, for your support].
Increased family reunification has been linked to reduced recidivism and reduced chances of inter-generational incarceration. For these reasons, please pass SHB 1284.
Lillian Hewko is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Legal Voice. She is working to implement a project she developed to provide legal education to incarcerated mothers and implement litigation and legislative strategies to reduce the chances of family separation in Washington State.
D.R. is currently incarcerated in Washington State and fighting to keep her family whole.
photo: Strong Families Mama's Day Card Campaign, image by Veronica Bayetti-Flores.