Kitsap Crime and Justice

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Purdy Prison: Should Inmates Raise Children Behind Bars?

February 20th, 2011 by josh farley

The “Residential Parenting Program” at Washington’s largest women’s prison in Purdy is turning heads of criminal justice officials around the nation.

The program allows non-violent, brief sentence offenders with young children to keep their young behind bars with them. A pioneering if controversial approach, no doubt, but one supported by the Department of Corrections because of the desire to break the strong likelihood that the children of felons will too commit crimes in their own lives.

A great report by Melissa Luck with Spokane’s KXLY4 explains one woman’s story:

When she got to the (Washington Corrections Center for Women), she was in the general population. Then, she found out she qualified for the Residential Parenting Program, where she could keep Deegan while serving her 31-month sentence.

“We’re promoting a healthy bond between incarcerated women and their children,” explained Sonja Alley, who supervises the program. On the day we visited last week, the RPP housed 10 women and 10 kids, with the youngest child just two weeks old.

Sheri Pam’s son Quincey is 20-months old, the oldest in the unit right now. Pam is serving time for Second Degree Robbery; she was six months pregnant when she was sentenced. Like every room in the unit, Pam’s room has a bed for her, a bed for Quincey and the toys and books you’d see in any toddler’s room. Women here have to meet strict criteria to qualify: they have to be minimum-security offenders, CPS history is considered and mental health is evaluated.

While there are exceptions, the women typically have to be serving a sentence of 30 months or less. It’s a short time in prison terms, but a lifetime for these infants and toddlers. The program is designed to keep moms and babies from ever coming back.

“Children of incarcerated parents are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves,” Alley explained. “So, we’re really trying to break that chain.”

I’d suggest reading about the back story on Luck’s blog as well. And I’d welcome your thoughts about this program.

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8 Responses to “Purdy Prison: Should Inmates Raise Children Behind Bars?”

  1. Cathy Halter Says:

    I’m sorry, but prison is supposed to be punishment and if a pregnant woman or young mother commits crimes that warrants her going to prison, she should NOT have her child/children with her. It really removes one of the deterrents to doing the crime. And what about the father, shouldn’t he have equal rights? Even if he is in prison, as well? Perhaps removing the child from her/his custody forever would break the chain of children of felons growing up to commit crimes as well.

  2. Phyllis Bishop Says:

    As a foster parent I think this is a great idea. It is a win win for all. Bonding with a child is so important. These moms are given a chance to learn how to parent. Children have that never ending bond with mom. I hope the state continues this wonderful program.

  3. BugeaterInWa Says:

    They should not be able to have thier children behind bars. Do the crime, do the time. Should have thought about more than yourself when you did what you did to get yourself into the position that your in. Now its time to pay.

  4. Rain Cordes Says:

    Absolutely not. Obviously, if you are in prison, one can’t make good decisions for themselves, so why should they be allowed to influence future patrons of society? Yes, some people may have “learned” from their mistake(s), but perhaps more guided parenting is a better option.
    It has been admitted, even in the article:

    “Children of incarcerated parents are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves…”

    So why, if this is statistics, why should we let the incarcerated parent, parent their child? Jail is jail, and who is parenting shouldn’t matter, that is Washington State’s problem.
    I am not insensitive, I think we all agree that we need the best examples for upcoming citizens, and prisoners are not the ones children should idolize. People are not put in prison for small crimes.

  5. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Babies belong with their mother and if she is in jail, so be it. Nothing is more important than the mother and baby bond and it can’t happen if they’re not together. Doubly good is that the mother is learning how to be a parent. Or so it seems to me.
    Sounds like a good common sense program – congratulations.
    Sharon O’Hara

  6. Dustin Says:

    Wrong Wrong Wrong. There is nothing right about this. If you go to prison you loose your child period. It is not that hard to stay out of prison. I’ve managed to do it my entire life.

  7. Gaye Barthold Says:

    I really like this program and as a tax payer am willing to support it. The screening for this program is thorough and fair.

  8. Phyllis Bishop Says:

    As a foster parent I see this program as a win win situation. Children need to be with their moms if it is safe. Moms need to learn how to parent effectivly. It is not the child’s fault mom made a mistake. I believe it may cost less then having a child in foster care.

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