Visitation and involvement are vital for the psychological and physical health of both mothers and children in the prison and foster-care systems. Most prisons throughout the U.S. do not offer free or subsidized transportation for visitation between parents and children. This places a large financial burden on families for transportation to facilities that are, on average, 160 miles from their home. While nonprofits exist in many states to provide transportation to prisons, they are often overburdened and under-resourced and cannot provide adequate resources to meet community needs. Prisons are also not responsible for providing transportation for women to attend custody hearings for their children, so the legal ties between the mother and child can easily be severed without the mother having a chance to defend herself in court. While legislation like the Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997) is meant to keep children from spending long periods of time in foster care, this legislation also makes it possible for legal guardianship of mothers to be taken away in just 15 months, a period shorter than most prison sentences.
Many women in prisons see being mothers as a defining characteristic of themselves and as a motivation for improving their lives. However, prisons often lack parenting programs, have onerous eligibility requirements to enroll in the parenting programs that do exist, and do not provide clear information about visitation. In some cases, mothers are forced to choose between a correctional facility that has inpatient drug treatment and one that is accessible to her children for visits.