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 Frambes

Madison is a World Journalism Institute graduate.

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  • wareagle
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful program bringing hope to the mothers and babies - well done. I question the assumption in the comment that these women are spending all day with their children. Typically, every inmate who is able to work has a job in the prison (except those in solitary confinement). Another article about the program mentions this same mother working during the day, taking classes, and spending a few hours with her baby in the evening.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    No need to punish the child. Perhaps the moms realize someone entirely innocent believes in them, loves them unconditionally. I hope those who do ministry in prison reach out to these ladies.However... Mom23Is has a valid observation. These inmates are likely ex- all sorts of crooks, dope addicts etc. Lets hope that some way some how the fathers are at least provided pix of their offspring. (And no, I won't ask how many got impregnated by the guards).

  • VT
    Posted: Fri, 01/20/2017 03:54 pm

    I don't think any would have anyway.

  • Mom23Is
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    I can definitely see the benefit for both the mom and baby.  But it seems unfair too.  How many law-abiding single moms would love to be able to quit their jobs and spend all day in a lovely furnished day-care with their babies?  But instead, because they're not criminals, they are stuck working all day, picking up their kids at daycare and  then spending a couple of  exhausted hours with the child before bedtime.  And then doing it all over again the next day.  Just doesn't seem quite fair.