William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


As the rates of incarceration continue to rise, women are increasingly subject to draconian criminal justice and child welfare policies that frequently result in the loss of their parental rights. The intersection of an increasingly carceral state and federally imposed time-lines for achieving permanency for children in state care has had a negative effect on women, their children, and their communities. Women, and their ability to parent, are more adversely affected by the intersection of these gender-neutral provisions because they are more likely than men to be the primary caretaker of their children. In addition, incarcerated women have higher rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and childhood and domestic abuse that make it more difficult for them to comply with federal and state standards for retaining their parental rights. Incarcerated mothers must also struggle against stereotypes of mothers and effective mothering which may be at play in parental termination decisions. This article suggests that feminists need to look more closely at these issues and proposes changes to arrest, sentencing, and parental rights hearings that would help incarcerated women maintain their connection with their children and preserve their parental rights. The article suggests a community-based approach to caring for the children of incarcerated women that would help empower women and their communities.