Letter to the Editor: Incarcerated parents

Dear Editor:

Incarcerated parents are not getting their needs met due to multiple barriers, especially when it comes to receiving visitations from their children.

For instance, WIC 361.5 does not specify which entity (child welfare agencies, prison facilities, or caregivers) has the responsibility of transporting children to visit their incarcerated parents. It only states that children should be provided with “transportation services, where appropriate.” Therefore, child welfare workers and caregivers could disagree as to where this responsibility lies, yielding low visitation rates.

Child welfare workers are further discouraged to provide transportation given that over 60% of state prison inmates are incarcerated at an average of over 100 miles from their last residence (Mumola, 2000). This lack of agency accountability is evident when comparing visitation rates between incarcerated parents and their non-incarcerated counterparts. In their study, D’Andrade and Valdez (2012) found that approximately 40% of incarcerated parents complied with their visitation orders, whereas 70% of non-incarcerated mothers, and 60% of non-incarcerated fathers complied. 

Incarcerated parents also lack consistent access to court-mandated services required to successfully achieve reunification. D’Andrade and Valdez (2012) found in their study sample that only 12.5% of incarcerated mothers and 0% of incarcerated fathers received domestic violence services; 32.1% of incarcerated mothers and 17.6% of incarcerated fathers received substance abuse services; 43.5% of incarcerated mothers and 36.4% of incarcerated fathers received mental health services; and 41.4% of incarcerated mothers and 33.3% of incarcerated fathers received parenting classes.

As a result, only 25.8% of incarcerated mothers successfully reunified with their children, half as likely as their non-incarcerated counterparts. Incarcerated fathers did not fare any better as only 13.5% reunified, one third as likely as their non-incarcerated counterparts.

It is therefore crucial for increase the availability of court-mandated services for incarcerated parents, but who will fund these services? 

Jesus Limon, Lizeth Sebastian, Mark Zhang, Esteban Plata and Carolina Ramirez

The authors of this letter are Masters of Social Work candidates at Cal State Long Beach.