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For Some Missouri Moms, a Mother's Day Alone

A new report documents mothers' efforts to stop mass incarceration of juveniles and improve treatment at youth detention centers. (Joy Knopf)
A new report documents mothers' efforts to stop mass incarceration of juveniles and improve treatment at youth detention centers. (Joy Knopf)
May 6, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - About 50,000 mothers across the country are spending this Mother's Day weekend worrying about a child in prison. A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies takes a look at family efforts, particularly mothers, to reform the juvenile justice system.

Mothers At the Gate calls for fewer children being locked up, better conditions inside youth prisons, and an end to solitary confinement.

Four years ago, Joy Knopf's 15-year-old son was charged with second-degree murder. The judge ruled that he be tried as an adult, something she says she fought hard against.

"It literally felt like a David-and-Goliath fight," says Knopf. "And I am an advocate to make sure that, even if there are things that I cannot do for my son because he's older now, I will fight every day for the rest of my life for another child."

Knopf says her son got 30 years and was housed with adult prisoners. After being hurt by inmates, he was put in solitary confinement for two weeks, a decision Knopf disagreed with.

She now advocates against mass incarceration of juveniles, mistreatment of those young people and the death penalty.

Karen Dolan is study co-author and says the answer most often isn't incarceration.

"The practices behind bars are extremely abusive in many cases," says Dolan. "Including physical, emotional and sexual abuse."

Knopf says advocating for other kids keeps her strong. She says she doesn't celebrate Mother's Day and won't, until her son is out of prison.

"My son, every time I see him, which is every weekend, he kisses me when I arrive," she says. "And he kisses me as I leave and thanks me for coming to visit him, as though I would be any other place."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO