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2001 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 1
January 2002

A Prison Social Worker From
a Women's Prison Talks
About Visitation

To help you learn about working with social workers in North Carolina's prison system, Practice Notes talked with Pat Vincitorio, MSW, who has worked with adult women offenders for the past 23 years. Currently she is the Social Work Manager at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women (NCCIW) in Raleigh, the largest women's prison in the state.

CSPN: Do prisons support parent-child visitation?

Yes. In the case of women's prisons, we have found it is in the best interest of the child to have as frequent contact with the mom as possible. Contact with their mom reassures children they have not been abandoned and that their mom did not leave them because they were bad children, which is a common assumption kids make.

Knowing her children are okay also helps the mom serve her time in an appropriate manner. Mother/child contact is an incentive for the mom to participate in programs which will help her be a better parent and a law-abiding citizen upon release. Visits can also have a positive impact on substance abuse treatment.

CSPN: How do prison social workers contribute to visitation?

When a family service worker wishes to bring the child to visit, the visit can be coordinated and supervised, if requested, by one of the prison social workers. Prison social workers also support visits by helping to clear up misunderstandings and false information prior to a visit. For example, in many cases the child has been told the mom is away at school or on vacation. We work with the mom to help her explain to her child where she is and why she is in prison.

Outside of visitation, prison social workers can assist child welfare social workers by seeing that the mom is meeting the objectives of the Family Services Case Plan, by helping obtain temporary guardianship papers, and by providing parenting classes, anger management groups, drug treatment, family counseling, and court testimony in custody cases. Prison system social workers also support pregnant inmates, providing them with perinatal counseling and making arrangements to place their babies.

CSPN: What are visits like?

At NCCIW, we try to arrange for the visit to take place in our MATCH (Mother and Their Children) center. The MATCH center is child-friendly (there are no Correctional Officers), bright, and colorful, with large play area, couches in sitting area, and a kitchen. All visits in the female facilities are "contact" visits, which means there are no restrictions on hugging, lap sitting, holding, etc.

CSPN: More than half of all parents in prison receive no visits from their minor children. Why?

I believe the reason is usually economic. Most of the parents in prison are from poverty- or subsistence-level economic backgrounds. The people taking care of their kids simply cannot afford to take children to the prison. For some families, the prison is too far away, they do not have dependable transportation, and it is too costly to pay someone to bring the children. Some of the caregivers cannot take time away from work to bring the children on regular visitation days. And sometimes, families are angry with the mom for getting herself in prison and want to punish her more by not bringing the children.

CSPN: What would you like to say to child welfare workers about working with incarcerated parents and with the NC prison system?

I would like to invite them to get to know the social workers in the prison system. Let's pool our resources to assist these moms and their children. We must all work hard to break the cycle of children following their parents to prison. I believe it can be done.

Distance of prison from
last place of residence, 1997
State
Inmates
Federal Inmates
Less than 50 miles
17.4%
7.5%
50-100 miles
20.7
8.5
101-500 miles
51.2
40.7
More than 500 miles
10.7
43.3

Source: Mumola, C. J. (2000). Bureau of Justice Statistics special report: Incarcerated parents and their children. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice [NCJ 182335].