Parental Prisoners: The Incarcerated Mother’s Constitutional Right to Parent

Emily Halter | January 1, 2018

The United States prison population has grown at alarming and unprecedented rates in recent decades, with certain states imprisoning more individuals than entire countries. Recently, the number of incarcerated women has climbed faster than that of men. The high rate of female incarceration has devastating effects on society, as many women are mothers and primary caregivers. Furthermore, every year, a number of mothers give birth in prison. When this happens, the mother’s family and loved ones are often not permitted to be present. The mother gives birth in a room with only medical personnel and prison guards. She then generally has fewer than forty-eight hours to spend with her child before he or she is taken away. Sometimes the child is fortunate enough to live with other family members, but other times, the child is placed in the foster care system. Due to a number of restrictions and obstacles, many incarcerated women are forced to forfeit their paternal rights during incarceration. While some programs exist in the United States, for the most part, there are few avenues of support for incarcerated mothers. This Comment explores the possibilities currently available to incarcerated mothers, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to parent and that right should be extended to incarcerated mothers.