Steve Bogira’s article, “Senseless Sentences,” in the January 8 Reader highlighted some of the ways that mandatory sentences for drug convictions have brought about more problems than they have solved. These mandatory sentences and other manifestations of the war on drugs have drastically affected families, as the number of women prisoners is growing much more rapidly than that of men.
The number of women locked up for federal drug crimes has increased tenfold since the federal sentencing guidelines have gone into effect. In Illinois the number of incarcerated women has skyrocketed also. Almost 80 percent of women prisoners are mothers; most are single mothers who were the sole caretakers of their children before their incarceration.
Committing a crime does not make someone a bad parent. Children who have bonded with their mothers suffer grief and depression when separated by prison walls. Placing women in prisons near their families is even more problematic than for men since there are fewer women’s prisons. Why do we spend thousands of dollars to destroy a future generation by sending mothers hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away from their children when drug treatment, education, and job training would work much more effectively to solve the problems that led to criminal activity?
I agree with “Oxford-educated” former representative Rostenkowski that politicians as well as the public need to be more informed about the realities of the criminal system of justice before they pass sentencing laws and continue the current prison-building binge. Perhaps then these children would have greater chance for a future outside prison walls.