Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prison Babies

Columbia University Researcher First To Study Life Of Mothers And Babies Behind Bars

Nurse researcher Mary Byrne, CPNP, PhD, FAAN, says the incarcerated women and their babies she has studied behind bars at the Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities during the past eight years are imprinted in her mind.

"Many of the children are now 7 or 8 years old. I think about them often. They have affected me, as has the entire prison system," she says.

Byrne is the first researcher outside the New York correctional system to study incarcerated women and their babies living in a prison nursery. Her research began in 2000 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and Taconic Correctional Facility, maximum- and medium-security women's prisons, respectively, about an hour's drive north of Manhattan. Prior to Byrne's research, no one had formally studied the impact of the prison nursery on an infant's development.

Byrne says so far her data shows that "the [co-habitation] of inmate mothers [and] their newborns can provide a positive environment that supports parenting and child development. However, the implications of our research show that mothers need supportive resources." These include treatment for depression, enhancement of self-esteem, and a sense of self as parent, as well as parenting guidance, she says.

Bedford Hills has the longest-running prison nursery in the country, since 1901. Women who are pregnant when they are incarcerated and have no serious disciplinary problems in prison may keep their babies with them for up to one year after birth, and sometimes longer, if parole is pending. The goal of the prison nursery is for mother and child to develop a secure attachment, which encourages healthy social, physical, and emotional development, Byrne says.

Becoming Parents

The typical day for a nursery mom at Bedford Correctional Facility is to wake up at 6 a.m., have breakfast, clean her room, and prepare baby for day care. By 9:30 a.m. mothers have dropped their babies off at infant day care — staffed by civilians and long-term inmates who have been trained as caregivers — and attend vocational, educational, and anti-crime-related programs. They join their babies at lunch and then return them to day care, as they attend an afternoon educational program. They pick their babies up at 4:30 p.m. and are responsible for their care for the rest of the evening. Recreation, college courses, and classes on domestic violence or 12-step meetings are offered, and the mothers often trade babysitting for attendance.

New York's Department of Correctional Services and those in other states are particularly interested in how the prison nursery affects the mother's recidivism.

"The Department of Correctional Services welcomed Dr. Byrne's research because we believe in the nursery program and felt reliable data from a recognized researcher would help document the program's effectiveness and success," said spokesman Erik Kriss.

"The mothers who participated in Dr. Byrne's study enjoyed their work with her and her research assistants and perceived the process as an intervention on their own behalf. They were more attentive to their children and their own parenting as a result."