Giving mom a second chance

(Opinion) Monday, 11 February 2008, 22:21 PST

-- Editor Dave Paulson

A prison certainly isn't the ideal place to raise a baby, but it just might be the best situation not only for the infant's development, but her mother's as well.

Little Jordyn becomes the youngest, and undoubtedly the most popular, resident at the Fraser Valley Institution as the federal prison for women accepts Jordyn's mother, Lisa Whitford of Prince George, after being given a four-year manslaughter sentence last week.

Whitford, 35, pleaded guilty to shooting Anthony Ryan Cartledge, her common-law spouse and Jordyn's father, at their rural home east of Prince George in 2006. She learned of her pregnancy while in custody and gave birth to Jordyn in detention last March while awaiting trial.

Advocates for Whitford say Jordyn's birth was the catalyst Whitford needed to clean up her life. With a law professor and two lawyers, including Bruce Kaun of Prince George, taking up Whitford's cause, she became the first inmate of a federal facility in B.C. to be allowed to keep her baby with her in prison.

Despite the perceptions of allowing a baby to be raised in a harsh prison environment, this is the correct decision.

Jordyn has already spent the first 11 months of her life in a remand facility on the Lower Mainland, where, according to a physician, Jordyn flourished. So, too, had Whitford, who previously lost two children to ministry care but who now, cleaned up, earned accolades for her parenting skills from her doctor.

To break the bond between mother and daughter would emotionally harm them both, but otherwise there appears to be no basis for the province apprehending Jordyn based on her doctor's report.

Under the federal mother-child program, Whitford has access to post-natal services including counselling and nutrition advice from public health authorities.

This is the first case of its kind in B.C., but the program, which allows children to be raised in facilities until they reach age four, has been operating successfully in eastern Canada.

In a pre-sentencing report, Mr. Justice Glen Parrett said Whitford's background and upbringing were the bleakest he had seen.

By all accounts she has made remarkable strides.

If all goes well and Whitford is released in two and a half years, Jordyn won't yet be four. By then it's hoped both will be on the road to happy, productive lives -- together, the only way they've known.

-- Editor Dave Paulson