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Prison Nursery Programs a Growing Trend in Women’s Prisons
By Women's Prison Association
Published: 07/13/2009

Mother-newborn Many Mothers and Babies Could Also Succeed in Community-Based Programs

The Women’s Prison Association (WPA) has released the first-ever national report on prison nursery programs. The report examines the expansion of prison nursery programs across the U.S. These programs allow incarcerated women to keep their newborns with them in prison for a finite period of time. The report also looks at community-based residential parenting programs, which allow women to serve criminal justice sentences with their infants in a non-prison setting.

The report finds that the number of prison-based nursery programs is growing, but that such programs are still relatively rare. Though every state has seen a dramatic rise in its women’s prison population over the past three decades, only nine states have prison nursery programs in operation or under development. Of the nine prison nursery programs existing or in development, four were created within the last five years.

Chandra Villanueva, Policy Associate at WPA and author of the report commented, “Prison nursery programs keep mothers and infants together during the critical first months of infant development, and the research shows that these programs produce lower rates of recidivism among participating mothers. As we recognize the benefits of prison nursery programs, we must also increase our investment in community-based alternatives, which allow for maternal/child bonding and enable women to address the issues that brought them into the criminal justice system in the first place.”

Research highlighted in the report indicates that these programs benefit mothers and children. Dr. Mary Byrne, Professor at Columbia University commented, “Prison nurseries offer needed services to a population of women and infants who might otherwise be overlooked. However, additional community prevention programs, alternatives to incarceration, and seamless follow-up programs are needed.” Dr. Byrne is the author of the first longitudinal study of maternal and child outcomes for prison nursery participants; her study is featured in the WPA report.

The report profiles existing and soon-to-open prison nursery programs in nine states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia, and also looks at community-based residential parenting programs in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Vermont. In addition, residential parenting programs operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and West Virginia are discussed.

Many women parenting their infants in prison nurseries could be doing so in the community instead, the report asserts. The profile of women in prison nurseries is nearly identical to that of participants in community-based programs. Women in both types of programs are serving relatively short sentences for non-violent offenses, and will continue primary caretaking responsibility for their child(ren) upon release. Further, most women in prison nursery programs present little risk to public safety.

Tina Reynolds, a former participant in a prison nursery program in New York, and the founder of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), underscored this finding: “While I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the first months of my son's life with him while serving my sentence in prison, it was not without sadness felt for my other son who was in foster care. I often questioned if the time I spent in prison wouldn’t have been better spent learning about myself and my children in community-based family treatment.”

Between 1977 and 2007, the number of women in prison in the United States increased by 832 percent. According to data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2004 four percent of women in state prisons and three percent of women in federal prisons were pregnant at the time of admittance. In 1999, BJS reported that six percent of women in local jails were pregnant at the time of admittance. As the number of women in prison has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, states have had to consider what it means to lock up women, many of whom are pregnant or parenting.

Dr. Angela M. Tomlin, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, reflected on the nursery program at the Indiana Women’s Prison, saying, “One of the most important things we can do for a baby is to support her to have a strong and healthy relationship with her parents. Once a baby feels safe in a relationship, everything else—from cognitive skills, to school readiness, to positive mental health later in life—grows from that foundation. For mothers, a strong attachment to her baby may reduce the likelihood of recidivism. The prison nursery is an investment in the future, one mother and baby at a time.”

The report, Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community–Based Alternatives, is available online at www.wpaonline.org.



Comments:

  1. katgarfulfree on 02/02/2014:

    I think it the first truly corrective idea I have heard about the "corrective" system I have heard. My granddaughter is facing 2 years in prison and is five months pregnant She has been an addict for five years which brought her to prison. If she could address her addiction while learning to be a mother is this not addressing several social issues at once I would gladly volunteer where ever needed. Thank you Kathy Freedle

  2. katgarfulfree on 02/02/2014:

    I think it the first truly corrective idea I have heard about the "corrective" system I have heard. My granddaughter is facing 2 years in prison and is five months pregnant She has been an addict for five years which brought her to prison. If she could address her addiction while learning to be a mother is this not addressing several social issues at once I would gladly volunteer where ever needed. Thank you Kathy Freedle

  3. katgarfulfree on 02/02/2014:

    I think it the first truly corrective idea I have heard about the "corrective" system I have heard. My granddaughter is facing 2 years in prison and is five months pregnant She has been an addict for five years which brought her to prison. If she could address her addiction while learning to be a mother is this not addressing several social issues at once I would gladly volunteer where ever needed. Thank you Kathy Freedle

  4. Against on 07/19/2013:

    I STRONGLY disagree on these programs! I have witnessed first hand someone who entered the program by trying her hardest to get pregnant by anyone so she did not have to serve time in prison and basically get free range of whatever she wanted in the actual mothers and infants program. She called the shots on what she wanted while doing time in the program while the father of the child was very capable of taking care of the child and had to fight thru the courts to receive custody of the child so the child could have a normal life outside of prison! I don't see how this is possibly a good thing to do at all! It sickens me that these programs are allowed.

  5. JasonJPI on 01/25/2012:

    I'm in the criminal justice degree program at CTU. We have an assignment to write about a prison nursery program. I was saddened to find out today that the Utah Correctional System does not have a nursery program. I think the state would produce better female parolees if they had one. Termination of parental rights enables inmates to re-offend because of their sense of loss. Best wishes, and thank you for making this information available. Jason K Jensen, PI Jensen Investigations 801-759-2248 www.jensenprivateinvestigations.com jason@jenseninvestigations.com

  6. Tangier on 04/12/2010:

    I think women who are imprisoned and are pregnant or have had new babies prior to beginning their sentence should be allowed to keep their children with them. In some European prison for example, Spain and Italy women keep their children with them in a mothers dorm and they also make the childrens food with fresh groceries as they progrees from bottle to real food. Some children are allowed to stay for up to age three. A good concept in that the women do their best to remain model prisoners to get released sooner and continue on a wholesome path with their child. Of course, there will always be one who 'bucks' the system but it should be tried, nevertheless. This comment comes from experience.


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