Lack of treatment of women in prison exacerbates problems, study shows

Thursday, March 3rd 2005, 6:37 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A new survey documents the problems of children of women in Oklahoma prisons and indicates their plight is made worse because many mothers are not getting treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, legislators said Wednesday.

It is the second study released by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, which was directed by legislation to study the living conditions of children of incarcerated women and make recommendations that will help break destructive cycles and allow children to live productive lives.

The following results were based on a sampling of 54 of the 2,048 women in Oklahoma prisons as of Feb. 7:

_76 percent were victims of childhood abuse as well as adult victims of abuse.

_36 percent said their children were currently in the home of the same relatives who abused the women.

_One in three said they are not receiving substance abuse treatment.

_About two-thirds of the women have legal custody of their children and plan to reunify with them upon released.

Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Barbara Staggs, D-Muskogee, said they found the results of the survey disturbing.

``What Oklahomans need to know is that when those women were incarcerated, more than a third said their children were placed in the home of the same relative who had abused them to begin with,'' Leftwich said. ``These children have a high likelihood of following in their mother's footsteps in more ways than one unless we do something different.''

Staggs said expanding drug courts is one less expensive way to get drug treatment for women who otherwise would be incarcerated.

The report recommended using other alternatives to prison when possible, such as day reporting centers and nighttime jail. It also urged more intervention services for children of imprisoned mothers.

``We need to be smarter about how we approach this problem,'' Leftwich said. ``Simply locking women up, not giving them treatment and sending the children to live with abusive relatives is not the answer.''

The survey indicated that children were three times more likely to suffer depression and more than twice as likely to have bad grades in school after their mothers are placed in prison.

In three cases, women said their children became suicidal after they were incarcerated.

``That's serious,'' Staggs said.