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Sun Gazette: Holiday Party Gives Incarcerated Mothers Chance to Bond with Children Print


Created:  Friday, December 14, 2012  11:45AM


It was a holiday party with all the familiar fixtures: a decorated tree, gifts for the children, plenty of food.

Just the location was unusual: the Dec. 12 event was held at the Arlington County Detention Facility.

About a dozen incarcerated women had the opportunity to spend part of the evening with their children, a rare chance for physical contact and an opportunity to keep bonds between mother and child strong despite the separation.

“I’m able to reunite with my son!” said an excited Sabrina Jennings, whose child, Hayden, came up to visit from Norfolk.

Hayden, a 7-year-old first-grader, has been living with Jennings’ father since she has been incarcerated. Like many of those in the room, Jennings has been fighting drug addiction, and hopes to be out of jail – having defeated her addiction – in April.

Hayden last had direct contact with his mother around Mother’s Day, the other time of year the detention center opens itself for “contact visits” between mothers and children. Despite the long drive up, he quickly responded “My mom!” when asked why he was excited to be there.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a year,” he said.

Mike and Ronique Kinard didn’t have quite as long a journey. They live in the District of Columbia while their mother, Ronda Kinard, is completing a jail stint in Arlington.

Ronda Kinard said she was happy to take part the event. “It gives you the opportunity to interact with your kids,” she said of Mike (a second-grader) and Ronique (a seventh-grader).

Ronique and Mike are living with family members during the period while their mother is incarcerated. Ronique said she misses being able to have her mother help her with schoolwork, among other things.

Currently, there are about 45 women in the detention facility at any one time, about 10 percent of the total population, Sheriff Beth Arthur said. Most are serving sentences of a year or less.

Arthur said that the prospect of a bonding session with their children proved a “good motivator” for those incarcerated to stay out of trouble. Those allowed to take part have been enrolled in parenting classes at the jail, an initiative that has been expanded to include male inmates.

Among those on hand at the event was Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), who praised the initiative.

“The importance of having children with their moms – keeping them connected – can’t be overstated,” Hope said. “It’s an emotional time. For the kids, this program really has an impact.”

The legislator said keeping the bond between parent and child is a motivating factor for those incarcerated, and may pay big dividends down the road.

“Every single person in this program is going to get out one day,” Hope said. “By keeping that [family] connection, hopefully the offender learns from their transgression.”