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Incarceration Tears Families Apart

November 2, 2022

Incarceration in prisons, jails, and detention centers tears families apart. Individuals who are incarcerated face cruel, inhumane conditions of living in a cage. They also face the devastation of being separated from their communities, including their loved ones. Those loved ones, including children, suffer devastation too; the carceral punishment of a given individual extends far beyond the walls of a prison or jail where they are confined.

Statistics show there are as many children with a parent in prison as there are adults in state prisons. Nearly half of the approximately 1.25 million people incarcerated are parents of minor children. The people on the inside, and their children on the outside, are thus punished emotionally, economically, and otherwise.

Sometimes— much too rarely—people on the inside and their families on the outside have the chance to reunite. But these in-prison or jail reunions are often difficult to coordinate. Families often travel over 100 miles from home to the prison or jail. And when they arrive, they are faced with what Patrick Stephens argues are “arbitrary, byzantine, and punitive visiting rules.”

Stephens, a parent and formerly incarcerated writer, shares the stories of other incarcerated parents. The first time Anthony Perez saw his baby, he “couldn’t even hold her.” Hector Roman, reflecting on being separated from his child by six feet of table, remarked, “I didn’t want him thinking that Daddy doesn’t want him next to him.” And disobeying the rules has serious consequences: unauthorized contact with a visitor can result in the immediate termination of the visit, or the prison can suspend someone’s visiting privileges entirely.

Family separation policies and practices are antithetical to the sexual freedom movement, which affirms that we, among other human rights, have a right to build and sustain our families. We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation send love and solidarity to families experiencing the brutal, painful separation caused by incarceration. We wholeheartedly agree with Lewis Webb, Jr., who stated: “To end family separation, we need to uproot the systems of mass incarceration and mass detention, systems that decrease the safety and wellbeing of our communities. Policies that force children apart from their parents are a devastating part of our past, and a terrifying part of our present. We must make sure they are not part of our future.”

A fence with razor wire in front of a cement building with thin tall windows. It appears to be a jail. (Mark Ralston/AFP)

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