Chicago Sun-Times

Jail program helps moms learn skills of parenting

January 1, 2001
Chicago Sun-Times

Francina Jones rocked her 2-month-old son Gerard in her arms as the infant gummed a pacifier and his small brown eyes closed to sleep.

The 33-year-old would be like any other mother who worries about her infant's future and his health, if it weren't for her ankle bracelet and tales of prison and drug dependency.

Jones is one of 163 incarcerated women who have been involved in a program run by the Cook County sheriff's office, which grants pregnant women counseling and prenatal care. They're allowed to live with their newborns and other young children outside of Cook County Jail as their cases go to court.

The program is called MOMs, which stands for Maternity Objectives Management program.

"I'm learning that my children need me; I'm the one who will guide them in this world," Jones said. "I had to relearn how much they depend on me."

Jones, who also has 15- and 10-year-old sons, has been living at the Women's Treatment Center on the West Side with about 15 other new or expecting mothers since she was charged with retail theft for the fourth time.

She has been convicted three times on similar charges and has been in and out of prison over the last four years as she's battled her heroin addiction.

The program began in October 1998 as a way to help mothers like Jones keep their children as they try to kick drug habits and to improve parenting skills, said Cook County Sheriff Michael F. Sheahan.

"It's better to keep the families together. Everybody loses when a mother's in jail," Sheahan said.

The number of women booked at Cook County Jail has nearly doubled from 8,196 in 1990 to 15,521 in 1999. Through about mid-December, 14,380 women had been booked in the county jail, a slight decrease from 1999.

To join the program, women must be charged with nonviolent crimes, be pregnant, and have a history of repeated arrests, said Terrie McDermott, executive director of the Department of Women's Justice Services. The average stay at the center is about 40 days but the time varies depending on how long it takes cases to go to trial, said McDermott.

The center has doctors and nurses who supply prenatal care. The women also meet with addiction counselors and participate in parenting classes.

Copyright 2000, Digital Chicago Inc.