Women entering Missouri jails may have a chance to bond with their young children while incarcerated, under a proposal House members will be asked to consider in the session starting Wednesday, but this concept is not new. Prison nursery programs have existed in other states for years, and in some cases for decades.
Ellisville Republican Bruce DeGroot sponsored one of the bills that would create a prison nursery program in Missouri, the House Bill 1897. He said that as a state representative he did not ‘didn’t always have the resources to provide detailed data that could help advocate for one of his proposals, but with this bill there is plenty of data out there about the difference it is making in other states .
“Everything I have heard about this bill has been overwhelmingly positive, as it has turned out in other states.”
DeGroot said that while he remains passionate about tort reform, which he says protects and supports employment opportunities, it is a bill that can have an immediate impact on tort law. Individual Missourians.
“Some bills are directly related to people and their situation in life and this is one of them. “
Springfield Republican Curtis Trent will also be proposing nursery legislation. He said that as we approach the opening of the new session, he was excited to continue this legislation.
“Of course the legislative process is there to look at those ideas and make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences, but so far the response I’ve received has been very positive, very encouraging, and the data we have from other states and from The feedback we’ve received from other people in this state so far has been overwhelmingly positive, ”Trent said.
Illinois launched its Moms and Babies program in 2007 at its Decatur Correctional Center. Non-violent offenders are allowed to keep their babies with them until they are 2 years old. The Illinois Department of Public Health offers health education classes and breastfeeding support and counseling. Up to eight mothers and babies can live in the facility safely and with the support and guidance of staff, and prison staff are trained in the needs of pregnant women and mothers. Other incarcerated mothers can also help care for the children in the nursery.
In 2017, more than 90 women had completed the program. Only two of them had returned to prison within three years of their release and only two were released from the program.
Maggie Burke was the director of Decatur and managed the state’s women’s facilities until 2017. She said the program had been great in her state and she felt Missouri should definitely start hers.
“It’s a program that works. It’s a program that works for moms. Moms don’t come back to jail.
“There isn’t a lot of research on day care centers in prisons, but what we do know is that it reduces recidivism for women who go through the program. They are more connected to their child and have more reason to stay on track when they get out. “
Debbie Denning, who was part of the scoping team that created the Illinois program and was the deputy director of the department’s women’s and family services division, agrees with Burke.
“It’s really important not only for the culture of the facility – it makes the administration happy, it makes the employees happy, but overall it’s the best thing for the baby and the mother, and the recurrence shows.
Once the connection is made, the mother is much more motivated to be successful and the administration sees a change in this establishment, and the establishments are extremely dark and difficult to manage and a lightness appears that you just cannot believe.
Burke said Illinois programs also take into account the unique needs of incarcerated women, who often face trauma and must recover from trauma.
“A lot of women have experienced significant trauma throughout their lives, which has led them to take various routes of substance use, and many of them have therefore never been parents without some sort of substance use. … What we found was that women were able to raise a baby for the first time and bond with a child for the first time without this substance use, ”said Burke.
“Part of our programming includes parenting classes to learn how to be a better parent, but part of our programming was also daycare classes so they learn how to care for a child in daycare. You would record when you changed a diaper, what type of diaper you changed, how much you fed them, how much they ate, what kind of food, what kind of drink and how many naps they took. You become more in tune with your child, so when he comes home he is better prepared to have more children if he does, just to be a better parent, a more caring parent.
Denning said that in Illinois there were those who were skeptical about creating a nursery program, and she was proud to see their attitudes change once it was in place.
“I had a sergeant… who was just awful about ‘Why would we bring babies to jail’ and ‘These women don’t deserve their children,’ and I put him on the committee. We had him, in the six months after our committee, he was the first to whom I had to say, “You can’t bring things for babies”, because he was bringing clothes and different things. It was just a complete turnaround. “
Denning continued, “I think with anybody, when you see this uplifting environment and you see these women bonding with their children… when they started to understand that our job was not to punish, but really to rehabilitate and sort it out until you become a parent, feel that connection with your child, and then come out and be able to be self-reliant and not depend on the system. Once we could connect those dots, they were. all positive about the program. ”
Burke said the program benefits not only the women and children who participate in it, but the rest of the prison.
“The culture of the establishment is changing in a way. I don’t know if you’ve been to too many prisons, but there’s just a kind of feeling when you walk into the prison and most of the establishments don’t feel like an establishment that has a bunch of babies in it.
Other states with a prison daycare program include Nebraska, where in 2018 there was a 28% reduction in recidivism within three years of a participant’s initial offense and a 39% reduction in the number of participants returning to prison. From 1994 to 2012, the Nebraska program saved the state over $ 6 million.
Both Trent and DeGroot say they have spoken to the Missouri Department of Corrections and Governor Mike Parson (R) ‘s office and received positive responses to the idea.
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