For the eight-and-a-half years she spent in prison, Kristan Kerr looked forward to one thing every month: a visit from her daughter, Chloe. Visit by visit, she watched Chloe grow from a toddler to nearly a teenager.
"I just watched her grow all the way up," Kerr says. "One visit, she couldn't read, and then the next visit she was reading something to me."
Convicted for aggravated robbery in 2011 – she was the driver — Kerr says she wasn't making good choices back then, and it meant missing out on a lot.
She and Chloe would talk on the phone and send letters and visit, but she says you can't do the physical, nurturing part of parenting from prison. Even though Kerr trusted that Chloe was being cared for by her grandmother, she says you never stop worrying about your kid.
There are more than 225,000 women behind bars, according to the most recent 2017 federal statistics. Half are in state and federal prisons, the other half in local jails. It's actually a slight decrease, coming after years of ballooning incarceration among women.
From 1980 to 2016, the country saw a 700% increase in the number of women behind bars. Exactly how many are mothers isn't well tracked, but a survey of women in Texas prisons showed more than 80% of them are moms.
Lawmakers across the country are now considering ways to send fewer moms with minor children to jail and prison, and to help preserve parent-child bonds when they're locked up.
In Texas, lawmakers are considering bills that would promote diversion programs, probation or other community-based sentences over jail or prison time to avoid breaking up families. Tennessee recently passed legislation to do that.
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