NEW YORK—The real victims of female imprisonment are often the children who are sent to foster care, left to stumble angrily through a society that took away their mothers.
Facing this problem, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is charting new territory, setting up programs that give women facing felony charges an alternative to prison that allows them to keep their children.
The JusticeHome program will be the first of its kind, allowing women charged with felonies to serve their sentences from home while maintaining custody of their children. It was announced by Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes and The Women’s Prison Association on May 8.
“Usually when it’s fathers going to prison, the kids go to the mothers. The reverse is not true,” said Teresa Fabi, chief of the crime prevention division of the Brooklyn District Attorneys office.
Fabi said women typically follow a different path into crime than men. Women charged with felonies often suffer from past trauma, victimization, and have histories of domestic violence and substance abuse.
On top of this, “They are overwhelmingly mothers who are primary caregivers for children,” Fabi said.
“It doesn’t just impact this generation, it impacts the next generation,” she said, noting that studies have shown that children of incarcerated parents often alienate themselves, become more hostile, and start skipping school. Her office often sees children on this track wind up in crime further down the road.
So far, the program has funding for 45 women. Eligibility will be judged case by case.
Women charged with felonies will still need to serve a minimum of six months in prison, but they will be able to spend the rest of their sentences from home and keep custody of their children while receiving treatment and remaining under supervision.
JusticeHome will build on the success of the Drew House program, also a first of its kind, started by the Brooklyn district attorney in 2008. Drew House gives homeless mothers facing felonies a chance to stay in a Brooklyn apartment with their children, while meeting court mandates and being under supervision.
“We have seen with the Drew House model how stable these families become, and how the children are thriving,” Fabi said.