Updated: Apr 9, 2020
MAY 6, 2019
Tennessee has a new law to help families stay together when a parent faces incarceration. The legislation, known as the Primary Caregiver Bill, requires courts to consider options for keeping a parent with their children. Jawharrah Bahar was in prison for 3 1/2 years, while her family cared for her three children. The impact of incarceration on her kids, she says, is undeniable more than five years later. “I am still, to this day, building a relationship back with them because they don’t trust me,” Bahar says. But now, Tennessee is becoming the latest state to offer alternative, community-based sentences — programs like drug rehab, counseling, and education — for those convicted of non-violent offenses who also have children that depend on them. Other states include Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon. Dawn Harrington is the executive director of Free Hearts, an organization that advocates for women behind bars and those involved in the justice system. She says women’s incarceration rates are surging in Tennessee and around the nation. “The majority of [the time] women are primary caregivers of their children,” Harrington says. “And Tennessee ranks high in the prevalence of children of incarcerated parents. … We are tied for third in the nation.” For Bahar, who is now home with all her children, the pains of her absence still lingers, especially for her 10-year-old daughter. “Every time I go to the restroom, she literally follows me,” Bahar says. “Every time I leave the house, [she’s] like, ‘When are you coming back? How long are you going to be gone?'” Bahar hopes this law will save other children from saying the same.