Prison Doors Unlocked for Motherhood : 4 Inmates Get to Keep Babies
Dianna Marvaino is 23. She is expecting a child in eight days. And she is expecting to be in prison until December.
Until Wednesday afternoon, she also expected to see her baby for a maximum of three days after giving birth, when she would be returned to prison from a hospital and her baby sent to a foster home, until she completes her two-year term for grand theft.
“Three days isn’t a long time to hold your first kid . . . and (then) to have it taken away,” Marvaino said Wednesday in an interview at the California Institution for Women in southwest San Bernardino County.
“And you don’t know if you’re going to have family or friends to bring it to see you, or if the foster care (people) will bring it to see you. It’s a terrible feeling.”
A Sacramento judge Wednesday ordered the California Department of Corrections to expedite its paper work to allow four women prisoners--including Marvaino--to move to facilities where they can live with their newborn babies while they serve their sentences. The state now houses mothers and children in its “community treatment program” at facilities in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose.
The temporary restraining order issued by Superior Court Judge James T. Ford ensures “that when the babies are born and can leave the hospital, they’ll be placed with their mothers,” said Rosa Martinez, public information director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “We’re very happy that we won on this.”
Martinez’s organization joined with the ACLU of Northern California and Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, a San Francisco-based inmates’ rights group, to file a lawsuit Wednesday against the Corrections Department on behalf of eight mothers and mothers-to-be imprisoned in the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and the California Institution for Women.
Mandated by State
The plaintiffs claim that the Corrections Department has been illegally denying women prisoners access to the community treatment program, which is designed to allow infants and young children to live with their incarcerated mothers. Mothers who are first offenders, expect to serve less than six years in prison and have children under 6 years old, may qualify for the program.
The program is mandated by the state’s penal code, but according to Rebecca Jurado, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, the Corrections Department has failed to notify inmates of their right to live with their children, has made it difficult for women to apply and has used improper criteria in rejecting applicants.
The suit asks the court to order the Corrections Department to follow the state laws that set up the program, and specifically to process the applications of all eight plaintiffs.
The ACLU has estimated that between seven and 15 mothers are in the program statewide, Jurado said, out of about 2,300 women prisoners.
Some Corrections Department officials concede that the community treatment programs have failed to attract significant numbers of female inmates, but they maintain that the program’s limited enrollment is not their fault.
“We have not been able to receive enough applications from (inmates) who are qualified,” said Harold White, deputy regional administrator for an area that includes part of Los Angeles and all of Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
White oversees the community treatment program in his region, which operates a facility that can accommodate 15 prisoners. “There just aren’t enough women at the present time who are qualified,” he said in an interview Tuesday, before the lawsuit was filed.
“We do have an active program,” said Jack Cory, an information officer in the Corrections Department’s Sacramento headquarters. ". . . It is in place.”
At the California Institution for Women, which now houses 1,678 prisoners, 37 women applied for the program in April, Cory said. Three women were accepted “and are awaiting placement,” 21 applications are still pending, and 13 prisoners’ requests to enter the program were denied.
Annette Rios has seen her four children--Nathan, Sarah, Anthony and Antoinette--only once during the 13 months she has been in prison for selling drugs, she said. The children, ages 2 1/2 to 6, live with Rios’ mother in Fresno. “I don’t feel too good about it,” she said.
Rios, like Marvaino, said she did not hear about the community treatment program from probation or corrections officers, but from another inmate.
‘Wouldn’t Do Any Good’
When she inquired about the program, a counselor at the California Institution for Women “told me it wouldn’t do any good” to apply, she said, because there is no facility in Fresno County, her home county.
Rios applied anyway in August, 1984. “Annette meets all the qualifications,” Jurado said. “She has not, in the 10 months since her application, received formal notice of her eligibility.”
State law requires that inmates receive an answer to their applications within 30 days, Jurado said. “The average (wait) is almost five months. We have women who have waited almost 18 months.”
Rios has been told informally, however, that the lack of a facility in Fresno County has precluded her from participating in the program, Jurado said.
But Harold White of the Corrections Department said there is no reason--in state law or Corrections Department policy--that a prisoner and her young children cannot be placed in a facility outside her home area.
“I just think they should have (a facility) so we can live with our kids,” Rios said. “I talk to them every week, and every week they ask when I’m coming home. And I just say, ‘soon, soon’. . . .
“I want to go up north, but if they can get me in a facility, I don’t care. . . . I’d rather live with my kids than in this facility.”
Besides Marvaino, two of the prisoners affected by Wednesday’s court order are expecting their babies within the next month. The other, Arlisa Gloster, gave birth to a 7-pound, 6-ounce daughter last Friday, said Ellen Barry, director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children.
Gloster and her newborn daughter, Jacqueline Monique, already have been separated for more than two days, Barry said. Gloster is in custody at the California Institution for Women, and her baby is living with her father in Northern California.
A Lucky Mother
Under the court order, Barry expects mother and child to be reunited within a day or two--just in time for Gloster to begin breast-feeding her daughter. A full hearing on the issue raised in the lawsuit is scheduled for later this month.
Deborah Crisp is luckier than most mothers serving time, she said. She sees her three children “maybe two, three times a week.”
Crisp is serving a three-year sentence for armed robbery at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, about 50 miles from her home in Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley.
She has applied to the community treatment program twice--in June, 1984, and again in September--and has heard nothing from corrections officials, she said.
“I just gave up. . . ,” she said. “It’ll be over a year pretty soon. It’s been over a year, and I’ll be out soon. In about 4 months.”
Crisp believes that it would now be tougher on her children to move in and out of an institution than to do without their mother until her November release date.
“Right now, I’m not too sure I’d want to take my children through those kind of changes,” she said. “My little boy just started talking. My little girl, she’s started walking now, she has six teeth. . . .
“I would like to see other people with their kids--other people who don’t have the opportunity to see their kids three or four times a week like I do.
“Some women come to jail and lose their kids. They don’t see their kids for years and years.”