Prison nurseries help jailed moms bond with their babies
by Madison Frambes
Posted 5/27/16, 12:15 pm
The nursery at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW) is full of toys, rocking chairs, and color.
“It doesn’t look like a prison at all, it looks like a home,” director Mary Alley said.
The windows across the back wall overlook a playground, where inmates and their babies can play outside. Although some are still hesitant about the idea of incarcerated mothers keeping their infants behind bars, Alley said nursery programs drastically reduce inmate recidivism rates from national averages as high as 32 percent to just 10 percent since they began in 1992.
Even so, of the more than 100 women’s prisons in the United States, only eight have nurseries.
The Nebraska Correctional Center’s nursery, like most of its kind, opened in the past 20 years. The NCCW already offered a unique overnight program for kids coming from out of state to visit their incarcerated moms. But creating a residential nursery for up to 15 mommy-baby pairs has allowed NCCW to take the next step toward fostering child-parent relationships.
The prison based its nursery program on the oldest in the nation: the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility nursery in New York. Bedford Hills, operated by the Catholic non-profit, Hour Children, uses Sister Teresa Fitzgerald’s tagline as their motivation: “Babies belong with their mother. In a palace or a prison, they don’t know and don’t care as long as they feel loved and supported.”
Not only do nurseries like those in Bedford Hills and NCCW allow moms and babies to stay together, they also save money. According to the correction department, Bedford Hills operates under an annual contract with the state of about $170,000. It would cost an estimated $480,000 per year to put the 16 babies from the nursery in foster care, according to state figures.
Codylynn is one such baby. Daughter of 24-year-old Jennifer Dumas, Codylynn plays in a nursery that looks like any other—except for the bars on the window and the barbed-wire outside. Dumas originally thought it was a terrible idea: “A baby in prison? No, thank you.” But with her baby rocking in a bouncy seat by her side, she admits to relishing their time together.
“It’s actually wonderful to be able to spend this much time with my little girl. … I’m blessed to be able to go through this,” she said.
Dumas has a son on the outside and looks forward to being reunited with him. Until then, she considers the Bedford Hills nursery a second chance at parenting—but with a safety net.
“It’s a way to get on my feet. … I don’t know anyone who gets that,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Madison is a World Journalism Institute graduate.