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U.S. Policy and Advocacy


Our policy and advocacy goals arise from an abiding belief that:

  • Communities should be the voice and catalysts for institutional and systematic policy change.
  • Leaders who advocate for change should come directly from families in our vulnerable communities.
  • It is far more costly and emotionally detrimental to separate parent and child as a matter of general policy. Instead, placements in comprehensive long-term treatment should be prioritized.
  • Well-trained parent-advocate leaders will create safe, strong, and stable communities for their families.
We conduct leadership trainings for women and girls, policy advocacy and media outreach to:
  • Expand comprehensive family treatment services.
  • Promote alternative sentencing for non-violent female offenders.
  • Improve conditions of confinement for incarcerated women and girls.
  • Reform child welfare policy, by expanding comprehensive family treatment.
  • Eliminate child sex trafficking for girls and training girls to be advocates for other victims.
Our policy and advocacy goals seek to:
  • End the shattering cycle of violence, trauma and addiction.
  • Develop policies and practices that honor, strengthen and render whole the sacred ties between parents and children.
  • Affirm the worth and dignity of every child and every family.

End the Violence Against Girls at the Margins

Girls behind bars share narratives of repeated physical and sexual violence. A study on delinquent girls revealed that in California, 81 percent of chronically delinquent girls reported being physically abused and 56 percent were sexually abused. Sexual or physical violence is more central to girls’ journeys to detention than it is for boys. For example, the Oregon Social Learning Study found that while 3 percent of delinquent boys experienced physical abuse, 77.8 percent of the delinquent girls were abused.

Improve Conditions of Confinement

In most state prisons and local jails, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women when they are in labor and when they deliver their children. Only six states have statutes regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women: California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Vermont. In the other 44 other states, and the District of Columbia, no such laws exist. This routine use of restraints on pregnant women, particularly on women in labor and giving birth, constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading and practice that rarely can be justified in terms of security concerns.

Alternatives to Maternal Incarceration

Twenty-five years ago, the presence of women—especially mothers—was an aberration in the criminal justice system. Approximately two-thirds of all women sentenced in federal court were given probation, and women comprised less than five percent of all prisoners. That was before the war on drugs. Since 1986, following the introduction of mandatory sentencing to the federal drug laws in the mid 1980s, and its adoption by many states at about the same time, the number of women in prison has risen 400 percent, according to a recent Department of Justice report, "Survey of State Prison Inmates"; for black women, the figure is 800 percent.

Drug Felony Ban

Section 115 of the 1996 federal welfare legislation placed a lifetime ban on TANF, Medicaid, and Food Stamp benefits for convicted drug felons. The lifetime ban denies mothers in treatment and recovery, many of whom were incarcerated as a result of their addiction, the support networks to achieve self-sufficiency and stabilize their families.

Improvements to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)

On the ten year anniversary of the Adoption and Safe Families Act’s passage, there is considerable reason to evaluate the statue’s impact, especially on the lives of mothers behind bars and their children. The distinct conditions of maternal incarceration, and the challenges of maintaining familial ties during a mother’s sentence, were overlooked by the original architects of ASFA—by their own admission.