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Original letter compared with printed copy, parts that were omitted are shown with strikeout. (Thanks to John W. Travis of Wellness Associates.)

Jailing Mothers Is Always Too-Harsh Justice

Letters to the Editor–The New York Times

Appeared on 21 August 1996

Dear Sir,

Judge Stanley Sporkin, Federal District Court, and Judge Patricia Wald, Federal Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit are to be commended for their recognition of special circumstances in the sentencing of women with infants and young children ("Criminal and Welfare Rules Raise New Issues of Fairness" by Nina Bernstein, NYT 8/20/96).

Imprisonment of such women when probation or alternative sentencing is available can only be considered a crime against humanity.

Substantial scientific evidence has documented the failure of maternal-infant/child affectional bonding as a major cause of depression, alienation, anger/rage, violence and substance abuse which is sought as self-medication for the emotional pain of loss of mother love and human love.

Animal studies have documented that prolonged maternal-infant separation (loss of mother love through sensory deprivation of the emotional senses) results in a variety of developmental brain abnormalities that includes alterations of the structure, neurochemistry, and neuroelectrical activity of brain cells in the emotional-sexual-social brain .

The consequences of failed mother love upon brain development and behavior are compounded by the lack of breast feeding which deprives the newborn of many essential nutrients not found in formula milk.

Of particular concern is the lack of tryptophanrichly present in colostrum and breast milk but absent in formula milkwhich is a precursor amino acid essential for the development of brain serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has been well established in the mediation of depression, impulse dyscontrol, and violent behaviors.

That judicial colleagues of Judge Wald on the Court of Appeals have discounted the importance of mother-infant/child affectional bonding and of breast feeding for the prevention of violence and substance abuse is appalling.

That the mother in the case you describe, a first time drug offender, is being sentenced to five years in prison ("There was no evidence, the panel added, that the baby could not have been weaned") reflects the profound ignorance and lack of sensitivity of these male jurists of those developmental factors that are crucial for the prevention of violence and substance abuse.

The legal-judicial and criminal justice system is challenged to find ONE murderer, rapist or drug addict who has been breastfed for "two years and beyond" the recommendation of the World Health Organizationin any prison, jail or correctional facility in the United States. The implications of this observation deserves the attention of every governor, legislator, jurist and citizen . Imprisonment of mothers with children is a guarantee for the establishment of a next generation of violent offenders and drug abusers. The drug war has now become a war against mothers and innocent children and no free society can survive such warfare . Imprisonment must be a measure of last resort.


James W. Prescott, PhD, Director
Institute of Humanistic Science