Mothers Are Incarcerated at Record Rates, Yet Prison-Nursery Beds Go Empty

Prison nurseries have been proposed in other states as a way to address maternal incarceration. In 2010, the Department of Justice issued a call for proposals to develop more prison nurseries. In 2014, Wyoming built and furnished a nursery that could accommodate 11 mothers and babies. Funding and staffing shortages prevented the nursery from opening, and as of July 2017, the building sat empty. In Connecticut, where 21 babies were born to incarcerated mothers in 2013 alone, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to establish a prison nursery. The bill never made it to the floor for a full vote. In Oregon, where the number of women in prison has doubled in the past 15 years, there are similar efforts to establish a nursery at the state’s sole women’s prison.

But, given the strict criteria for many of these nurseries, some wonder if establishing more prison nurseries is actually the solution. Lorie Goshin, now an assistant professor at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, has also studied alternatives to incarceration for mothers and children. “U.S. prison nurseries have very strict eligibility criteria,” she said, “similar to those that make women great candidates for community alternatives to incarceration.” Goshin points out that criminal justice reform efforts are decreasing the numbers of people imprisoned for low-level, nonviolent crimes. But, she added, “women who face incarceration may be more likely to have violent convictions. It will be important for other states to consider expanding their eligibility criteria to meet the needs of their pregnant incarcerated citizens in this changing criminal justice landscape.”

via Mothers Are Incarcerated at Record Rates, Yet Prison-Nursery Beds Go Empty