Day 6: The 1 biggest insight from meetings with guards and incarcerated mothers

The door families enter to begin the security process before they are allowed through to visit their mother in jail.
The door families enter to begin the security process before they are allowed through to visit their mother in jail.

For change to last at the prison, or any system really, the entire community must be involved and on board. On Day 6 we ran a focus group with 5 inmates of the prison, 4 of them who were mothers and grandmothers of children of all ages. Although we weren’t able to take guards away from their work for a group conversation, we conducted interviews at the posts of 6 guards.

While we learned much about the visitation process and the sentiments of these stakeholders at the prison, there was one insight that came from these meetings that will especially guide our work and recommendations moving forward.

Moms AND guards feel a lack of support at the prison.

Did you think moms and their guards would having nothing in common? Think again. The explanation for mothers feeling a dearth of support may feel obvious, with a purpose of punishment and clear power dynamics at the prison. These are women who have committed criminal acts, after all. But they also spoke of inmates who had been transferred after peacefully combatting grueling conditions (like hot water for showers or heat in rooms, including the gymnasium where family visits take place).

Guards explained that after a year or two at school, they would begin work at the prison with no on-site training, supervision, or even staff meetings to remind guards of rules and regulations, such as the list of restricted items allowed at visitation, which one guard said many forget. These inconsistencies in enforcement causes confusion for families, draws out the length of the security process and shortens visitation time, and prevents some children from even entering to visit their mothers. Guards see church missionaries and other social service workers visiting to support inmates, with no attention paid to their grueling work schedules, which allows no free time or  time to visit family often far away.

The lack of support for both women and guards at the prison has certainly proven to be a strong barrier in any change improving mother-child attachment, and a key dynamic in the prison community we must consider and even confront moving forward.

Written by Alissa Marchant, Boston College School of Social Work

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