A Prison Social Worker
a Women's Prison Talks
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
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
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
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
|Less than 50 miles
|More than 500 miles
Mumola, C. J. (2000). Bureau of Justice Statistics
special report: Incarcerated parents and their children. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Justice [NCJ 182335].