Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Strange Place for a Nursery

Pregnant women in prison are often not afforded the proper nutrition and prenatal check-ups, to which mothers in the free world have access. A more important issue that incarcerated mothers reported occurs when the state removes their newborn child. One program that exists that serves as a happy medium between immediately removing the child after it is born, and most likely placing it in foster care, and letting the child grow up in prison, is the program located at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

The nursery program at Bedford Hills is one of the oldest functioning prison nurseries in the United States. Bedford Hills allows the incarcerated mothers to keep their newborn for up to one year. They will allow an extension if the mother has less than six months left to serve by the time one year has passed. Mothers there participate in parenting classes both before and after delivery. These classes are planned and taught by specially trained inmates.

A benefit of the nursery program at Bedford Hills is that it has been shown to reduce the recidivism rate for women that partake in the program. By the third year of the three-year study, only 13 percent of the women who participated in the nursery program had returned to prison, compared to the 26 percent of the women who did not partake in the program. Another positive aspect of the nursery program is that many of the women in the program never would have spent this much time with their child, or would have known how to be a good parent, if they were on the outside. The program allows them to spend time with their child while simultaneously teaching them responsibility and proper parenting skills. By having a program that allows them to visit their children, it gives the inmates that are mothers an incentive to behave and in turn makes them easier to control.

A possible consequence of the Bedford Hills nursery program is that if the children of the inmates decide they no longer want to visit their mothers, then it gives the inmates no reason to be on their best behavior. Another side effect of the program is that it can be devastating for a child to see their mother and then know they will not be able to see her again for a month or to see her in prison in general. Another downside to the program is that the women who are in it, and those in the regular prison population as well, are not able to utilize halfway houses upon their release. Some inmates may get accustomed to having baby-sitters and help constantly available and their new life, alone, may be a shock.

The Bedford Hills Correctional Facility’s nursery program could improve if they set up a transitional program for the mothers that are released after partaking in the program. Since they are not allowed to utilize halfway houses, this transitional program could help them adjust without living in a special house. This program is somewhere they could frequent several times a week for additional support, counseling, babysitting, etc. It could be run by individuals on probation or those sentenced to community service. Although these individuals might need some training, the cost would seemingly be minimal. In regards to the other problems, the potential side effect on the infants and children that live/visit the prison, those are issues that will just need to be dealt with as they arise.


Carlson, J. (2009). Prison nurseries: a pathway to crime-free futures. Corrections Compendium, 34(1), Retrieved from

Ammes, L. (1996, April 28). The view from: bedford hills correctional facility; keeping families intact, from prison. The New York Times, Retrieved from

Behind bars, keeping mother and child together. (1990, September 23). The New York Times, Retrieved from

Kauffman, K. (2001). Mothers in prison. Corrections Today, Retrieved from

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