Nearly than half of the women at York Correctional Institution in Niantic are moms. It’s why the prison is now taking a new step to help incarcerated parents maintain a bond with their kids by installing a new playground at the facility later this month.
“I have an 8-year-old, a 3-year-old, and my daughter is going to be one in December,” incarcerated mother Fernanda DaRocha said. “I didn't really want my kids to come to this environment.”
Some incarcerated moms have been separated from their kids for years.
“When I came to jail the first time, my 13-year-old was nine months,” Madeline Dickey, of New Britain, said.
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For these women, lost time can have a big impact.
“My son just had twins. Yeah, fraternal twins. So they're two months. So I didn't get to see them yet,” Madeline Griffin, of Brookfield, said.
It’s why York Correctional Institution is taking a new step to help incarcerated mothers stay connected to their kids.
“You're going to be hearing and seeing a lot of kids playing,” “You're going to be hearing and seeing a lot of kids playing,” York Correctional Institution Warden Trina Sexton said.
Right now, the outdoor space of the prison is a courtyard, but soon it will transformed into a playground.
“All the colors are going to be changed, it's going to be very bright and colorful,” Sexton said.
The setting will cater to kids and let them have their own space to play with their moms.
“They don't have to be cooped up in here with the other people that are here visiting,” Griffin said. “They'll probably want to come here every day!”
York Correctional Institution has a partnership with UConn’s Connecticut Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative. That program utilizes state funding to provide resources for moms in the prison, like a caregivers program.
“We actually saw a couple kids walk in here for the first time in front of the moms so it's really special,” Delissia Walton, an incarcerated C Program volunteer from Hartford said.
In the visitation area, there is a space filled with toys, books and puzzles where moms and their children can embrace a world of imagination.
“I have two autistic children and they're with their special needs, and there's things here for them to do, it helps,” Dickey said.
The parenting programs at York Correctional Institution serve 414 women with children currently incarcerated. They are benefitting 872 Connecticut children. Once the playground is complete, prison officials and program organizers believe the single investment will benefit thousands of women and children for decades to come.
“We've learned that maintaining the relationship during separation is crucial for children's wellbeing and health,” UConn’s CT Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative Manager Aileen Keays said. “We also think for the public as it also demonstrates to reduce recidivism if you can maintain family connections during the separation.”
For the mothers, the opportunity for a connection means a lot, especially for Dickey, whose daughter as a baby once didn’t recognize her as “mom.”
“At first she didn't believe I was mommy,” Dickey said. “It took like a month or two. But when she first ran and said, ‘I know you're my mommy,’ I cried. I was amazing. “
She’s now grasping at a second chance to rebuild a relationship with her kids.
“Being able to have her come three times a week in the past and play with her, she acknowledged me,” Dickey said. “It was amazing because I thought she would never acknowledge me.”
York and other correctional institutions statewide resumed social visits the last week of September, after they were stopped for more than two years due to COVID-19.