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Nurturing Bonds Behind Bars: Washington State's Residential Parenting Program

August 23, 2023

By Lukas D’Ambrosio Communications Office

(Lukas D'Ambrosio, Communications Office)

Washington State Department of Corrections’ Residential Parenting Program (RPP) reshapes the lives of incarcerated mothers and their babies. This program allows women with sentences of 30 months or less, who come to prison pregnant, to keep their newborns by their side. It is proving to be a catalyst for lasting change, prioritizing the irreplaceable bond between mother and child.

“It allows me to be the mom to her that she needs me to be, while being incarcerated,” said Marie Haller, an incarcerated mother in the Residential Parenting Program at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

At the heart of the program lies the profound understanding that the early years of a child's life are crucial for their emotional and cognitive development. The Residential Parenting Program recognizes this, providing incarcerated mothers with the opportunity to nurture their babies in an environment that fosters love, care, and stability. The concept is simple yet transformative: mothers are encouraged to create routines and schedules that provide a sense of stability for both themselves and their babies. Through a structured regimen, babies develop a strong foundation that extends beyond prison. As mothers embrace their roles as caregivers, they're equipped with essential life skills that empower them to be successful parents even upon their eventual release.

“We push the work life balance,” said Larry Ball, a Classification Counselor at WCCW in charge of RPP. “Some mothers go to school, they drop their kids off at early head start, some go to work.”

The Residential Parenting Program is also heralding a new era of support for incarcerated women. Providing a safe environment for babies and mothers, it offers access to counseling, parenting classes, and educational opportunities.

“I have three kids at home, this is my fourth baby, and our bond is completely different than the other ones,” said Christina Torres, an incarcerated mother in RPP. “I just wasn’t really there because I was always working. Here we have that time to be together.”

This comprehensive support system creates a framework for personal growth and self-improvement, fostering a sense of responsibility that goes beyond motherhood. By recognizing the power of maternal bonding and facilitating an environment that supports the growth of both mothers and their babies, the program is setting the stage for brighter futures.