While in prison, Ms. A re-establishes contact with her daughter

September 18, 2019

Following is a case example from the VOLS Incarcerated Mothers Law Project. "Ms. A" is an alias name to protect privacy.


For over twenty-five years, pro bono attorneys working with the VOLS Incarcerated Mothers Law Project (IMLP) have provided legal support, advice, and counsel to mothers in jail or prison, helping them to understand, strengthen, and protect their parental rights and to plan for reunification once they are back in their communities. 


The adverse, often devastating, consequences that parental incarceration has on children, families and communities is well-documented. When mothers go to jail or prison, the resulting instability is often traumatic for their children. Maintaining family connections and preserving strong mother-child bonds during incarceration has been shown to benefit both child and parent.


Ms. A, a VOLS client at Taconic Correctional Facility, was unable to visit with her daughter until her pro bono attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell intervened on her behalf. The young woman told her lawyers that she had not seen her seven-year old daughter at all during the entire fourteen months that she had been incarcerated. Her Davis Polk legal team included Dara L. Scheinfeld, Pro Bono Attorney, and Rebecca L. Harris, Associate.


Ms. A was particularly eager to arrange at least one visit before beginning an intensive, selective “shock incarceration” program, which was located at a significant distance from where her daughter was living. Ms. A hoped that completing the program would create an opportunity for a sentence reduction and early reunification with her daughter. But in the meantime, visitation would be even more complicated at the new location than at the Taconic facility in Westchester County. 


Ms. A.’s mother and father had been caretakers of their granddaughter during the entire time that their daughter was in prison. Her parents had adamantly refused a visit with her daughter, in spite of repeated requests begging for a visit. 


Once the attorneys determined that an informal visitation agreement was not possible, they mobilized and quickly filed a petition for visitation on their client’s behalf and prepared for trial. The two attorneys traveled upstate and were well prepared for the family court litigation that was scheduled. After oral argument, the Judge told opposing counsel that unless they had evidence to submit that would rebut the legal presumption of this mother’s right to visit with her child, the pro bono team of attorneys would prevail at trial.


As a result of the judge’s admonishment, the parties were able to reach a settlement that awarded Ms. A. the full relief she sought. Shortly after the hearing, Ms. A. enjoyed two visits with her daughter. She successfully completed the “shock” incarceration program and soon after was released from prison.


Today, Ms. A. is in regular contact with her daughter and is making progress in her efforts to have custody of her daughter restored to her.