When a crime is committed the most common punishment in the United States is incarceration. During the past several decades the total of incarcerated adults have jumped from 320,000 to approximately 1.4 million. In 2007, more than half of the number of adults incarcerated, in state or federal prisons, has been parents. Majority of the children, whom are involved in situations that their parents are incarcerated, have been directly impacted (Kjellstrand et. al, 2012, p. 2409). Incarceration of a father has an impact on children, but it has been found that incarceration of a child’s mother has been more significant.
The amount of incarcerated women is increasing at a rapid rate. This number is growing at a rate almost doubled of those of men (Dallaire, 2006, p. 15). Besides the fact of being incarcerated, women whom have children while incarcerated have even more stressors. The relationship between a woman and her children is the central emotional focus. These women are experiencing guilt, anxiety, and a sense of failure. While having these negative emotions, a women’s child is also seen as a source of hope, an internal connection, and a motivation for change. Mothers in prisons “reported that the lack of involvement in the daily lives of their children was among the hardest things to bear about incarceration” (Young & Smith, 2000, p. 133).
High levels of stress in women in prison are associated with increased feelings of depression. “Depression, guilt, distress, decreased self-esteem, and a sense of loss” are some of the more common symptoms that women in prison experience (Young & Smith, 2000, p. 133). Mothers are not able to respond to the daily concerns of children as a mother should. Communication between women in prison and their children is difficult because of the correction policies that are in place (Young & Smith, 2000, p. 134). Taking into consideration the impact incarceration has on mothers only, it is even more important to recognize the impact incarceration has on the women’s children. A child is more vulnerable and their development is hindered by not having the emotional and physical support that is needed by their mothers.
Children of Incarcerated Mothers
Children of these incarcerated mothers are among the “riskiest of the high risk children in the nation” (Myers, et. al, 1999, p. 133). Often children who are left behind when their mothers go to prison are the unseen victims of their mothers’ crime. Children experience similar trauma as those children experiencing their parents going through divorce, abandonment, or the death of a parent (Young & Smith, 2000, p. 132). These children have a greater chance to experience stress related to poverty, displacement, and poor academic performance. Estrangement, poverty, and poor academic performance are risk factors that may cause or lead to the development of psychopathology, including behavioral and psychological...