Olga Khazan writes for The Atlantic about the case of Melissa McCann Arms, whose 20-year sentence for causing a newborn to have methamphetamine in his system was reversed Thursday by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Khazan had written previously about Arms and raised the question of whether prison was the right response to people with addictions.
Melissa’s son, who will turn three next month, has been living with his father, Joseph, and Joseph’s relatives in Oklahoma while Melissa has been in prison. Joseph has mild mental retardation, can’t read, and, when I interviewed him earlier this year, was homeless. Prior to her conviction, Melissa had completed drug rehab, parenting classes, and several 12-step programs in hopes of keeping her son.
“By the time they actually took her to trial, she had rehabilitated herself,” Melissa’s child-custody attorney, Pamela Fisk, told me at the time. “She had done the drug treatment, she had done parenting, she had done counseling. She had done everything the state had put in place. This is punishment. This is not rehabilitation.”
Arms remains in prison Khazan reports.
Melissa’s lawyer, Randy Rainwater, told me on Friday that he was still waiting to hear whether Melissa would be released immediately or detained further because of an outstanding probation violation charge. (The drug use violated a condition of her probation from a separate charge for not returning a rental car on time.)
Melissa’s case is one of a growing number in which women find themselves losing custody of their children and serving time for drug use during pregnancy. As I found in my investigation, this can happen even when the children are born perfectly healthy, and as ProPublica recently reported, it happens even when the drugs in question are legal.
Rainwater said there had since been two similar cases against new moms in his area, but that those defendants had taken plea bargains in order to avoid the harsh sentence imposed on Melissa. It remains to be seen what will happen to those women, he said.