McClinton, Bullock to introduce bill to create community-based sentencing programs for women with children

HARRISBURG, July 27 – State Reps. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Deleware, and Donna Bullock, D-Phila., announced that they will introduce legislation that would direct Pennsylvania courts to sentence the primary caretakers of children younger than 18 to individualized community-based sentencing programs.

The bill would require judges to determine if an offender is the primary caretaker of a child under 18, and if so, to hand down a sentence of non-confinement for low-level and non-violent offenses as long as they do not carry mandatory minimums. The offender would be required to complete a number of rehabilitative services instead of serving time in prison.

“The tough-on-crime stances in our Commonwealth are ineffective and are tearing families apart,” McClinton said. “Yes, individuals who break the law should be held accountable. However, if they have committed a low-level, non-violent offense, they should not be sent to prison where they would lose custody of their child.”

Over the past 30 years, the number of incarcerated women in the United States increased by over 700 percent, rising from 26,378 in 1980 to 215,332 in 2014. More than 60 percent of women in state prisons are reported to have a child under 18. Incarcerated mothers are forced to either relinquish their child to foster care or place them under the care of relatives.

“Incarcerating women for low-level, non-violent offenses has detrimental effects on children,” Bullock said. “Countless studies show that young children with incarcerated parents are more likely to become involved in troublesome activities and to even become incarcerated themselves. It’s time we join other states across our nation and rethink how we punish parents with children.”

Of the 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, over 70 percent were children of color. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. In Pennsylvania, there were over 5,000 women in state correctional facilities in 2014. However, an estimated 40,000 women in Pennsylvania are expected to spend some time incarcerated each year. Since women are traditionally more likely than men to be primary caretakers of children, incarcerating women has a significant and long-lasting effect on communities. Studies suggest that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency, and subsequently, be incarcerated themselves.