- Report Published -
|Prison Programs that Promote Maternal and Infant Bonding|
|Department of Corrections|
|HJR 206 (Regular Session, 1994)|
|House Joint Resolution No. 206 requests the Department of Corrections to study the feasibility of allowing incarcerated mothers who have young children or who give birth in prison to keep their children with them to promote maternal and infant bonding. The Department was asked to study the costs compared with foster care; program design; effects on recidivism; outcomes experienced by the State of New York program; and the potential effects on the child.|
New York State has operated prison nursery programs since 1930. Currently, programs are operated in two women's prisons with a total bed capacity of 50 inmates/infants. New York Corrections Law allows women who give birth in prison to keep the child for up to eighteen months of age, provided they participate in the nursery program. Only women serving sentences of five years or less are eligible for New York's nursery programs, with the typical inmate serving 23 months.
New York State's nursery programs allow inmates to live in single cells or dormitories with their infants. They participate in parenting classes, and are closely monitored and evaluated during interactions with their child. The women attend prison work programs and other treatment services available through the host prison facility. While the women attend programs, their babies are kept in a day care center operated by carefully screened inmates and volunteers. The day care centers require that mothers simulate the discipline of a working mother in the community by bringing the babies to and from day care on time.
The New York Department of Correctional Services reports a high level of success with their nursery programs. A report on participant demographics was recently issued and is attached to this report. However, no formal evaluation has been conducted to determine if the program has any effect on recidivism.
New York reports its per inmate/baby costs per month as being approximately $1,165.00. When compared with maximum average Virginia Foster Care costs of $365.00, even when allowing for inflated New York costs, Virginia foster care is less expensive. Additionally, under the Foster Care system, the infant's medical care costs are paid by Medicaid and the infant may be eligible for assistance through Aid to Dependent Children. It appears likely that if babies are incarcerated with their mothers that medical costs would have to be paid by the Department of Corrections and that Aid to Dependent Children benefits may not be available.
A survey was conducted of the female inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland to determine the number who may be eligible for a nursery program because they have children eighteen months of age or younger, or are pregnant. The survey showed that approximately 4% of Virginia inmates fall into this category. Projecting this figure on the population of female offenders in Virginia state prisons, there would be 40 inmates potentially eligible for the program by virtue of their child's age. Using New York State's cost figures, the annual cost of the program would be approximately $560,000.
The addition of a nursery program may complicate prison operations causing increases in less obvious costs. It is unclear what the liability to the Department is for infants who may be harmed by other inmates. Special foods would be needed. A separate unit would be needed to house the nursery program which allows mothers and infants to reside together, and provides facilities separate from the general population for recreation, day care, visiting and meals.
Issues of cost and prison operations are overridden by concerns for the welfare of the child. Many questions about the impact of the prison environment on an infant are unanswered. New York has not conducted any formal evaluations to examine the impact of the program on the child. Observations of New York program staff indicate that babies in the nursery program are more healthy, responsive and sociable than babies who would be raised by drug dependent mothers in the community. However, there is no comparison between nursery program babies and babies placed in good foster care programs. Many questions surround the possible impact of the program on the child including stigma, and whether or not the prison environment jeopardizes the safety and welfare of the infant.
In considering issues of nursery program costs and possible impacts on the child, there appears to be little evidence that in-prison residential nursery programs are beneficial to the child or to the taxpayers of Virginia.
The Department believes that family stability and good parenting skills may better equip an offender to become a law abiding citizen after release. Therefore, it is recommended that any funding which the General Assembly may make available for such services be directed not towards nursery programs which serve only 4% of the population, but towards family and parenting education programs which are available to a wide range of both male and female inmates. Using Virginia's MILK (Mothers/Men Inside Loving Kids) program as a model, these services may provide education and supervised visitation but do not require the residence of the child in prison.