Recently, the Kazakh Senate had a plenary session, during which Senators approved changes and amendments to some criminal justice regulations. By those changes and amendments, female inmates, for the sake of not losing ties with their children, now may keep their children under 4 years of age with them. But that provision covers only those mothers, who have less than one year left before enlargement.
Earlier, inmate-mothers were allowed to keep their children only till the time when those children reached the age of 3 years. After that, those children were either given next-of-kin or dispatched to orphanages.
Born in Chains
As of today, there are 79 corrections facilities in Kazakhstan, and six of them are for women and only in one of them women are allowed to do their time together with their children born in detention. That only facility is Corrections Center LA-155/4 in the Zhaugashty Village of the Almaty Province. Today, there are 22 children in custody there. To be accurate, we must report, that the discussed Center has a special accommodation house for children, that mothers attend after work.
Experts who inspected LA-155/4 confirmed that the accommodation house had all necessary conditions – division by age groups (pre-walkers, toddlers and older children), as well as a separate room, that earlier was a paramedic office, but today is used for maternity and delivery purposes.
There is a playground with trees and all necessary training and entertainment facilities, moderate, but quite modern. Mothers and inspecting experts had no issues with the detention conditions. They report that children receive adequate nutrition, attention and education.
Some drawbacks and omissions are present, as well. First one is the shortage of doctors necessary to deliver the full-fledged medical observation and treatment of children. There is a Pediatrician, but there are no specific experts.
Another drawback of child detention together with mother, is the fact, that despite the external picture of wellbeing, children still are in detention, and, thus, are deprived from the fullness of life, its variety and its natural order and course: children do not know buses, cars, child hobby groups and circles, they do not have normal contacts with women and men. The only male individual they deal with in the Center, is the doctor. Others are all individuals of female gender, including mothers, nurses and jail guards.
We need to understand that children are allowed to stay nearby their mothers only till they turn 4 years with the provision that their mothers have just one year left to serve. In other cases, order of things remains the same – once a child turns three, inevitable is separation.
Our indigenous legislation does not take into account notions, like mental and physical damage to a child, because separation from mother is a severe impact on immature mental condition of a child. There are situations, when children turn 3, get separated from their mothers, while their mothers still have 25 years in detention left.
For clear reasons, women after separation of a child enjoy special attitude and delicate approach. In some extreme cases, psychology professionals may be mobilized to help those women overcome mental crises and shift focus of attention to other things.
But even after enlargement, they, very often have no opportunities to keep the children with them. After enlargement, many women suffer from poverty. That explains why high is probability that many such women will soon find themselves in detention again, especially if there are no people to help them “in free life”.
There, also, are cases of different character. Our law-enforcement officers report numerous cases when women come to jail pregnant, and not for random circumstances – some of them know beforehand they will be put in detention and prepare themselves to that, while some of them, while in jail, seek opportunities to have meetings with their husbands. Such women know well about the privileges envisaged for those pregnant – fresh air walks before and after delivery without any time constraints, better nutrition and regular medical check-ups.
Besides, mothers with children may count on early enlargement or release on parole. Sometimes, they manage to get either of the options, but then their parental impulses disappear – they abandon children, sometimes immediately after leaving detention centers. They just leave their children in train stations and out in the streets.
Kazakh mental health experts who work with the prison community report that such cases rarely have happy ends. Our detention system, as is, facilitates that – after enlargement, former prisoners just cannot find themselves their places in free life. Sometimes, it is that bad, that some former prisoners express nostalgia about detention centers, where they had opportunities to have normal communication with their children, while many things would come for free and readily available.
For the Sins of the Parents?
Not all Kazakh Human Rights activists incline to think that mothers should enjoy opportunity to keep children on them, while being in jail. Because a prison is not a place for innocent kids.
They keep discussing above on and on, from year to year. In 2017, MP Zagipa Baliyeva discussed that problem in the Parliament, during a round-table discussion dedicated to the rights of socially unprotected groups in detention.
“…33 children, that are currently in custody in the Detention Center LA-155/4 are free citizens of Kazakhstan. There were no court verdicts issued in regards to those free individuals, they are kept there without proper legal substantiation. Their mothers do the time in jail, and so do their children. We are violating the rights of 33 citizens, as a minimum…” – Ms. Baliyeva said.
In connection with the above, the MP suggested that the Child Accommodation House be farmed-out from LA-155/4, or prisoners be given deferral of punishment, till their children reach the age of 5 years.
How positive such changes would for mothers and their children, we do not know – verbal discussions on the life of women and children behind bars are nothing but a nice and shallow exercise.