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Mothers At Prison's Gate

A new report tracks a movement by mothers to end mass incarceration of juveniles. (
A new report tracks a movement by mothers to end mass incarceration of juveniles. (
May 6, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - While many mothers across Arkansas are enjoying breakfast in bed or being gifted with flowers and chocolates for Mother's Day, more than 50,000 of them will be feeling the pain of their child being locked behind bars, most for minor offenses.

A new report called Mothers at the Gate by the Institute for Policy Studies is about the effort by family members to challenge the conditions in which their loved ones are held as well as mass incarceration itself.

Report co-author Karen Dolan says things that used to be called childish or disruptive are now criminalized.

"Children that have been in a fight, or that have been disruptive in school, or that in some cases have merely watched fights," says Dolan. "And all of these behaviors now are becoming so criminalized, especially in areas that are high poverty and that tend to be black and Latino."

Dolan says they're calling for juvenile justice reform, including raising the age juveniles can be transferred to adult prison, ending solitary confinement, improving conditions in youth prisons, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, and ultimately ending the imprisonment of children.

Paul Kelly, senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says we can't solve problems of poverty and inner-city crime by throwing kids in prison.

"Ninety percent of the kids we lock behind bars are nonviolent, 80 percent of them have scored at low or moderate risk of re-offending, and we're locking them up behind bars," says Kelly. "You are creating a future that this country and this state cannot maintain."

The group is calling for more investment in community-based alternatives to incarceration.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR