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Women and Children

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Dorothy Nash Holmes photoDorothy Nash Holmes (Administrator of Prison Programs, Nevada Department of Corrections): When mom goes to prison the kids go to prison everybody goes to prison.

Photo: ChristyChristy (Inmate, Silver Springs Conservation Camp, Silver Springs, Nevada): That's the biggest thing I've learned -- you hurt everybody . . . you destroy everybody's lives. Not just your own. You're not the only one who goes to prison; everybody goes to prison with you. They're picking up your slack, they're doing your job, they're taking care of your kids, they're loving your kids. And where are you? Sitting back thinking about why you did it.

Erin Breen: It's visiting day at the Silver Springs Conservation Camp east of Carson City, Nevada. Christy is a young mother of 3. She is 28 years old, and this is her second time through the system. The first time was on drug charges. This time she's in for armed robbery. Her youngest was born in prison.

Christy: 3 months after my incarceration I found out I was pregnant. They took me to the hospital and induced labor . . . It was horrible, cuz I knew I was going back to prison.

Erin Breen: Jenny is also 28. She was studying criminal justice to become a juvenile parole officer when she stumbled and fell hard. She is now serving 1-3 for trafficking level one and selling to an undercover cop.

Photo: JennyJenny (Inmate, Silver Springs Conservation Camp): My oldest son was 8 at the time, my youngest was living with his dad in Sacramento, and my daughter was just about 14 months old when I left for prison. I'm not sure if it was more heartache walking away or knowing if I kept them something would harm, that I would harm them.

Erin Breen: Like the majority of children of women incarcerated in prison these children are all being raised by grandparents.

Christy: He doesn't know I'm his mom. You know . . . because . . . It's a chosen thing. Because my mom adopted him because I had so many years to do in prison.

Jenny: My daughter associates the word mommy with being my name. So she calls me mommy, but she doesn't quite understand that I'm her mom. Maybe when she gets older she'll understand.

Erin Breen photoErin Breen: Jackie Crawford is the Director of the Department of Corrections for the state of Nevada. She took over the system in the year 2000 and has made some sweeping changes in the way women are dealt with in prison.

Jackie Crawford (Director, Nevada Dept. of Corrections): We have to remain tough on crime. We're not advocating a reduction in sentence or not to be tough on crime. But let's look at different sanctions and different ways of managing the female offender and her children.

Dorothy Nash Holmes: Nevada's attitude has always been bars and bullets. It has been lock em up and throw away the key; they don't deserve anything. Director Crawford's philosophy is the punishment is coming to prison. In prison you should be treated humanely and you should have the opportunity to improve yourself if you're willing to do that. We're doing our bit for public safety; we're keeping you away from the public, and while you're here we can train you.

Jackie Crawford photoJackie Crawford: I still believe that we have to work toward the mother and the children because if she's going back into the home . . . Let's prepare her and let's prepare her the correct way so that those children grow up in a healthy environment.

Erin Breen: At the Silver Springs Conservation Camp programs are focused on educating the female offenders with schooling, with parenting classes, and with work. Both Christy and Jenny work in the shop that maintains the vehicles for fire-fighting the inmates do with the Nevada Division of Forestry.

Lt. Kathy Etchart photoLt. Kathy Etchart (Silver Springs Conservation Camp): NDF helps them build confidence and brings them up to the point that they can make it on their own.

Erin Breen: The inmates live in dormitories and learn to build on what skills they have, but for most, the real focus is on getting home to their children.

Jenny: One picture I always keep next to me is my children and me in one picture.

Erin Breen: Unfortunately children of incarcerated mothers face their own set of issues.

Jackie Carwford: There are no secrets in these small communities. They read it in the paper or the parents read it and the next thing you know that child is isolated because . . . the parents of the children don't want their kids associating with them because their parents are in prison. That's not a good thing, so the kids become stigmatized.

Dorothy Nash Holmes: Some of the kids have had nervous breakdowns when their parents go in because of what their parents are doing.

Photo: JennyJenny: My oldest son, he had a nervous breakdown and ended up in West Hills for a nervous breakdown. He spent a good bit of time in there . . . before they let him go. At that point they'd diagnosed him with ADHD and depression.

Christy: It was hard on them. I mean I can't even imagine. I've tried but it was very very hard on them. I could see the pain every time I looked at my oldest son.

Jenny: My son's been through a lot with me. He's 10, he's been through the bulk of my addiction with me.

Jackie Crawford: I think that we ought to be looking at treating the family. And I think that's how we're gonna look at focusing our efforts in the state of Nevada. Because what's important here is that if we don't those children are 5 times more likely to go to prison themselves . . . so we're talking about prevention here. Being proactive. Also it's about better addressing the needs of the female offender.

Erin Breen: But breaking the cycle is not easy. Most of the women in prison were abuse victims themselves. Few of them have high school degrees. The majority are co-dependent and focused more on the men in their lives than their children, and virtually all of them have issues with drugs.

Jackie Crawford: I'm advocating strongly that we begin looking at house arrest and that we bring in a social service team and that we teach that mother how to manage those children and be a good parent.

Erin Breen: For those currently in the system, acknowledging their failures and focussing on the future for their kids may be the key.

Photo: ChristyChristy: My mom couldn't keep me out of trouble and God knows she tried . . . but I just hope that my kids can see what this has done to me and I hope that they can learn their lesson through me.

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