Legal Corner: Community Based Programs for Mothers

by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The Community Prisoner Mother Program (CPMP) allows women who are sentenced to six years or less (with credits) and who have a child under the age of six years old and women who are pregnant, to move from state prison to a community-based facility to serve their sentences. CPMP is under the direction of the Dept. of Corrections and there are strict guidelines about who is eligible for the program. CPMP was established in 1980 and at one time there were seven facilities in California. Today there are only two facilities, one in Oakland and one in Pomona.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) has advocated for women to be admitted into a CPMP facility for many years and, in fact, sued the CDC in the late 1980s for its failure to fully implement the program. Settlement was reached in 1990 and one of the terms of the agreement provided that pregnant women who requested an application to CPMP would be given an application and permission to submit the application before the date of their delivery. However, despite that provision in the settlement, pregnant women have an extremely difficult time actually getting to a CPMP facility before the birth of their child.
All pregnant women at Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) are visited on a weekly basis by a social worker from the Madera County Department of Social Services. The worker is supposed to assist the woman in making the decision on where to “place” her baby. Women may list the names of relatives (maternal or paternal) or a friend who has a foster care license. However, because social services is involved, any person designated by the woman will be subjected to a criminal background check. For many women this means that their baby will not be going home with their relative of choice. Grandmothers and other relatives who have past felony convictions, regardless of how old the conviction is, will not be allowed to take custody of the baby. Instead, these babies will be made dependents of the court and will be placed in foster care.
In addition to the involvement of social services, pregnant women at VSPW must contend with the prison doctor and the CDC policies. LSPC has received several reports from women that the prison doctor refuses to medically clear a woman for CPMP until after the birth of the baby. More recently, LSPC was told that no pregnant women would be sent to CPMP because of “insurance concerns.” LSPC is following up on this information and will be investigating the CPMP facilities.However, another issue concerning pregnant women in prison are reports that an adoption attorney has been visiting with the pregnant women on a regular basis and encouraging the women to release their babies for adoption and that there’s a faith-based group that has leaflets at the prison advertising their services (this group tells the women that a church family will foster the child until the woman is released; unfortunately, very few of the women are permitted to maintain contact with their babies and many of the babies are adopted by these church families).
In order to more thoroughly investigate the policies and practices of the CDC, LSPC would like to hear from:

  • any woman in state prison or county jail in California who has had difficulty in obtaining information or an application to a CPMP facility, or
  • women who have been approached by an adoption attorney, or
  • women who have been in contact with a faith-based group or church group about foster care.

Lastly, there is proposed legislation, AB 1530 sponsored by Assemblywoman Negrete McLeod, which if passed, will improve a woman’s chances for CPMP by requiring the CDC to ensure that women not only receive information about the program but also an application, qualification guidelines, and information on how to appeal a denial of admission. The legislation will also require the CDC to accept pregnant women into CPMP as well as requiring the CDC to ensure that the women and children in the program have access to Head Start and Healthy Start programs. CCWP and LSPC support this important piece of legislation.