Dwindling Parental Rights: A National Statutory Profile on Eroding Rights of Female Offenders

Lanette P. Dalley, Minot State University

Historically female prisoners in the United States have not prevailed, when asserting their parental rights. With the exception of a few prison nursery programs, the women inmates and their children were separated with little regard to maintaining their relationships. In some cases this resulted in termination of parental rights. Today, however, female prisoners' rights are jeopardized more than ever before because of recent federal and state legislation mandating permanency planning for children who are in foster care. Many states have also enacted foster care laws, as well as laws which take into account the nature of the offense. Clearly these newly enacted laws demanding permanency target inmate mothers due to the very nature of the women's inability to provide their children with permanency. This paper provides an overview of both federal and state laws and data from a study conducted in a Minnesota women's prison. Twenty-seven women were interviewed, in addition to reviewing their correctional files and interviewing correctional staff. The findings from this study reveal that the majority of the women were aware of the current permanency laws and the way these new laws are being used to sever their relationship with their children even if such termination is not in the children's best interest.

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Updated 05/20/2006