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.
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.