Melinda is currently serving a thirty-six month sentence in state prison. She leaves behind two small children with her elderly aunt, whom after eight months in the aunt’s care, can no longer care for the children. They are placed into foster care and Melinda looses contact of them. Upon her release from prison, Melinda has learned that she has lost all parental rights of her children under the 1997 Bill Clinton initiative Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). While the ASFA was to ensure that children be moved out of foster care into adoption, this act has made it far more likely, that incarcerated mothers of children in foster care will lose their children permanently. The state can terminate parental rights in certain circumstances, with a shorter timeline for parents to complete services and regain custody or face termination. If a child is in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months of a parent’s incarceration, the state can move to terminate the parent’s rights except under certain circumstances (i.e. kinship). In addition, for women who are incarcerated for longer than two years (women in state prison serve an average of 36 months), this law can almost guarantee the loss of custody of their children. In most cases, after parental rights are terminated, they cannot be regained.
According to the 2008* Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.7 million children under age 18, had a parent in state or federal prison. The number of children with a father in prison increased from 881,500 in 1991 to more than 1.5 million in 2007, a 77 percent increase. During that time, the number of children with a mother in prison increased by 131 percent, from 63,900 to 147,400. Over half of the parent’s incarcerated stated that they were the caregivers of their children.
Prison Abolitionists today have attributed the dehumanization and economic profits of Black and Brown bodies in the Prison Industrial Complex to that of Slavery. The thief of children from their incarcerated parents is with no exception. During slavery, children were ripped away from their mothers and sold into slavery without ever seeing their children again. This Adoption and Safe Families Act is no different. Moreover, with Black Women being the fastest growing group in prison, and being sentenced to prison six times more likely than white women, we can almost be sure as to whom this affects the most.
Forty-eight states besides Hawaii and Vermont have implemented ASFA. Last year, New York passed The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) Expanded Discretion Bill. The new law allows for foster care agencies and courts to take into account the special circumstances of parents in prison or residential treatment when determining a child’s fate. I think all states should push this law to amend this act and demand the government for reunification of incarcerated parents with their children.
The Assata’s Daughters Project, an organization that my comrade Natasha and I created, is seeking to garner signatures to amend the Adoption and Safe Families Act for Pennsylvania. Our hope is that with enough interest, we can get Senators to sponsor this bill and take it all the way to the Governor! I propose that people help to amend this bill in their own states!
Please sign the petition (below)!
Iresha Picot, The Assatas Daughters Project