For most moms, Mother's Day is a time to be celebrated. But for nearly 80 percent of the women currently incarcerated in the United States, Mother's Day won't mean flowers, pedicures, breakfast in bed, or even a day spent with their children. Instead it will mean another day behind bars, separated from family, and struggling with feelings of isolation and guilt. This Mother's Day, however, advocates are working to raise awareness about the plights of incarcerated moms across the country.
In the last couple of decades, women have become the fastest growing group of people to be thrown behind bars, according to a 2016 report from the Vera Institute of Justice. Nearly 80 percent of incarcerated women in America are mothers with dependent children — a staggering statistic by any measure. And, more often than not, those mothers are single parents, the report found. That means that their children may be especially affected by the devastating consequences that can come along with having a mother incarcerated.
"When moms are jailed, the consequences for children can be devastating, from being shunted into the foster care system, to remaining home alone to fend for themselves," Human Rights Watch has reported.
Formerly incarcerated women agree. "When you incarcerate women, you incarcerate the whole family," Lavette Mayes, who reportedly spent two Mother's Day holidays in Cook County Jail, told the Chicago Tribune.
This year, through a variety of initiatives, advocates across the country are tying to make sure incarcerated mothers aren't forgotten this Mother's Day. As part of its 2018 Mama's Day Bailout campaign, a Seattle-based nonprofit known as the Northwest Community Bail Fund is raising money to bring as many mothers unable to afford bail back home for Mother's Day as possible. Similarly, a coalition of organizations known as the National Bail Out is covering the bail of as many mothers of color as they can for its Black Mama's Bail Out Day.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice a majority of women behind bars are jailed on charges for nonviolent, lower-level crimes such as property, drug, or public order-related offenses. Many can't afford bail and are thus forced to remain in jail, separated from family that may depend on them for caregiving, until their trial.
But advocates are also hoping to use the holiday to raise awareness about the unique struggles incarcerated mothers face. Human Rights Watch is documenting the stories and experiences of mothers incarcerated in Oklahoma, a state which has one of the highest rates of imprisonment.
Other organizations are aiming to make Mother's Day a special occasion for incarcerated moms. For the fifth year in a row, Moms United Against Violence & Incarceration, a Chicago-based mutual support organizing group, hosted an Incarcerated Mom's Day Vigil and Toiletry Drive outside of Cook County Jail. The event aims to "uplift and honor mothers separated from their kids by incarceration" whether that incarceration comes in the form of a jail, a prison, a deportation center, or a restrictive parole or electronic monitoring mandate. The event also aims to collect toiletries for female inmates and raise money for incarcerated mama's phone funds as a means of helping them connect with family members outside.
We Got Us Now, an organization for and about children and young adults impacted by parental incarceration, has teamed up with Photo Patch Foundation to send postcards to incarcerated moms on Mother's Day. In offering free Mother's Day postcards to families of incarcerated mothers, the We Got US Now and Photo Patch Foundation seek to keep families connected and uplift children and their incarcerated parent.
While these campaigns vary in scope and directive, their message, ultimately, remains the same: incarcerated mothers deserve the dignity and honor other moms receive on Mother's Day, too.