In Ohio, Inmate Mothers Care For Babies In Prison
Morning Edition, August 13, 2008 · First in a three-part series.
At the Ohio Reformatory for Women, a dozen babies are spending time behind bars. Too young to say the word "crime," they are participants in a program that enables inmate mothers to raise their children in their cells.
The program is one of many across the country designed to meet the unique needs of mothers who are locked up. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population. At the Ohio Reformatory, the warden estimates that 75 percent of the 2,300 inmates housed there are mothers.
Only a handful of U.S. prisons offer an in-house nursery program like the one at the quickly expanding Ohio complex, located about 30 miles from Columbus. Only nonviolent offenders who arrive at the prison pregnant or with infants and are serving relatively short sentences can qualify.
The Achieving Baby Care Success program began in June 2001. The 12 mothers currently participating live in a special wing of the prison. The babies sleep in identical cribs in their mothers' cells. Between prison roll calls, mothers take their children to the in-house nursery for scheduled activities.
The ultimate goal, says warden Sheri Duffey, is to reduce recidivism and keep the next generation out of prison.
The program "maintains that bond that the mother and child has," Duffey says. Although research is limited, a small study in Nebraska several years ago suggested that prison nurseries may make mothers less likely to commit another crime and end up back behind bars.
At the colorful prison nursery, Kristin Kennedy, a 28-year-old inmate from Zanesville, Ohio, awaits the public librarian's arrival for story-time. Kennedy was pregnant with her third child on the day she reported to prison.