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Mothers Rapidly Making Up the Nation's Prison Population as Opioid Epidemic Rages On

It's getting to the point where officials at a prison in Marysville, Ohio are building a nursery on the premises because mothers – females, in particular – are surpassing men in terms of being incarcerated in this country. Specifically, women are being imprisoned for opioid addiction and possession, and the crimes that can result, like stealing, breaking and entering, trafficking, and driving infractions that involve drug paraphernalia.

Other prisons, like one in Campbell County, Tennessee, are less compassionate, with some inmates going years without being permitted to hug or even see their children. Conversation over a prison telephone is the only contact these kids can have with their mothers.

What makes such a situation even more unfair to the children than it is already is the fact that once their mothers have done their time, they are released without receiving treatment for their addiction. And so, back on the street, they get involved in their same old habits, commit the same old crimes, and leave their children without mothers yet again. And, of course, repeat offenders often receive harsher penalties than first-time offenders.

This is yet another example of why treatment, rather than incarceration, is so crucial if we want to be able to effectively combat the opioid crisis.

At the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW), inmates serving three years or less are allowed to keep their children on the premises with them until they have fully served their time. ORW is only one of four prisons in the country to provide such a benefit for their inmates. What perhaps makes ORW even more innovative is the fact that Ohio has suffered some of the highest numbers in the country insofar as addiction-related crimes and fatal overdoses.

ORW's logic in allowing their inmates to remain with their children is sound and respectable: they believe that addicts should be kept far away from the reminders and behaviors that could encourage them to go back to using. Therefore, inmates who are given longer sentences are, effectively, being kept away from the very opioids they may use to ruin their lives without being ripped away from the loving arms of their children, and being forced to return to their children when they have already missed so much of their growing up.

What's even more affecting about this is that ORW's approach actually seems to be working. And if a state that has some of the highest numbers in the country can remain humane in how they treat their prisoners, why can't the remaining states take up a similar mantle?

There is also an inpatient treatment program at ORW called Tapestry, but to become a participant you must be sober – a fair enough requirement. Inmates can be at any point during their sentence, and unlike a typical treatment program that lasts 30 to 90 days, Tapestry lasts 18 months. Certainly, a lot more progress can be made the longer you hammer away at a person's addiction so they can return to a productive life lived with the family they love.