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Supporting Incarcerated Moms

May 14, 2020

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Mom and baby with hands outstretched on a gym mat.

A mother does stretches alongside her young daughter as part of a weekly moms group at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. The mats they sit on during meetings are cleaned and sanitized before each use. (Melissa Johnson, Washington Corrections Center for Women)

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GIG HARBOR – Taking care of an infant demands a great deal of responsibilities for any parent. Changing dirty diapers. Feedings every few hours. Cleaning soiled clothes. Comforting them when they cry.

Throw in the mix the challenges of living incarcerated with the infant during a pandemic — and you can get some fatigued mothers.

The Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) has launched a weekly group to offer extra support for mom-and-baby pairs in the Residential Parenting Program (RPP) (pdf). The facility’s program is one of just eight state correctional facilities in the country that allow pregnant incarcerated women to keep their newborns with them for a limited amount of time. Women accepted into the program are allowed to keep their children for up to 30 months, and therefore must have 30 months or fewer remaining on their sentences to allow for the women and children to leave the facility together.

Under normal operations, program participants have supports like an on-site licensed day care and Early Head Start pre-school where they can drop off their children while they attend classes or go to their jobs. The facility also has a group of incarcerated women who serve as caregivers to assist the moms. They have cribs in their rooms and can help tend to the young children if they are fussy or can’t sleep.

However, strict physical distancing measures initiated by the pandemic response has temporarily curtailed those activities.

Facility officials began the moms group at the end of March, in response to concerns that moms could feel isolated during COVID-19. The local family council provided input as they do on local and statewide issues that affect families who have incarcerated individuals.

There are currently 13 mom-and-baby pairs and one pregnant incarcerated individual in the mother’s group program. When the moms meet, they sit on gym mats and in designated spots that allow for adequate physical distancing. The room and mats are cleaned and sanitized before and after each use.

The group gives a chance for mothers to connect with their peers, talk about and share their fears and anxieties, receive therapeutic interventions and play with their children in a safe environment, according Dr. Rain Carei, who leads the group with Psychiatric Social Worker Kim Dickens. The moms also participate in yoga and low impact wellness exercises.

“The most rewarding part of leading this group is providing these moms with a community space where they can ask questions and be there for each other,” said Carei. “The lack of caregiving and supportive options is a critical challenge to women who are in the program to learn and rely on these skills.”

The mothers say the group provides some solace in this unusual time.

“The group session is awesome,” said incarcerated mother Mayra Esperanza Alamo-Angel. “It’s about having an outlet to relieve stress and have a relaxed environment with our child as well as with the rest of the moms. We can vent and ask questions and express any concerns we have. I love it.”