(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez and and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to provide incarcerated individuals who are parents and are the primary caregivers of their children with certain protections to help preserve familial bonds that are often crucial to rehabilitation was released Monday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
According to the Sentencing Project, in 2004, 52 percent of inmates in state prisons and 63 percent in federal prisons were parents of children who are minors. Most parents in prison are fathers, but the rate of female incarceration in America is growing at an alarming rate.
The current status-quo in the correctional system can make it hard for these parents to maintain relationships with their children. Many face difficult choices, like whether to use their limited funds to call home to talk with their children, or to purchase hygiene products in the commissary.
“Stripping people of their humanity does not bode well for them or society,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “If we want our correctional facilities to be truly reformative, then we have to stop denying inmates the most basic necessities and limiting their interactions with loved ones.”
“These individuals made mistakes and they are paying for them. There is no denying that. But there are children caught in the middle who still need them,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The provisions in this bill would provide these inmates with the most basic necessities, and expanded visitation rights so they are able to maintain or build healthy relationships with their children.”
The bill (A-3979) would establish the “Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act” to focus on incarcerated parents in state and county correctional facilities who are primary caretakers of children, and provide these parents with the protections they deserve.
The bill would require the Commissioner of Corrections and the chief executive officer of each county correctional facility in the state to adopt the following policies concerning primary caretakers of children:
· Place primary caretaker parent inmates with children in a facility as close to that child as possible.
· Establish a pilot program for overnight visits with children.
· Promote and encourage visitation policies.
· Prohibit solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant inmates.
· Provide inmates with parenting classes and trauma informed care, and corrections offices with training on how to interact with victims of trauma.
· Allow former inmates to mentor incarcerated parents and assist them with reentry.