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Proposed bill would allow some inmates to stay with babies in prison

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Some members of the General Assembly are pushing to let mothers who give birth while incarcerated in Delaware stay with their babies longer.

A bill that the House Corrections committee released last June would allow the Delaware Department of Correction to establish a prison nursery program.  Under that program, eligible inmates who give birth while in prison could raise their babies there for up to 18 months — a break with how things are currently done. 

“Mom is at the hospital for 24 to 48 hours, and then she’s back in DOC custody,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, of how the system currently operates. “Baby— they begin the arrangements for foster care for baby while baby stays at the hospital.”

Minor-Brown argues a prison nursery program could save lives.

“Instead of taking the baby away, putting the baby through the foster care system, and sending mom back to prison, we keep them together,” she said. “We allow that baby and mom to bond, and we allow the mom to just be a mom, we teach her how to be a mom, that to me is true rehabilitation.”

 

Minor-Brown says the prison nursery would need to be separated from the rest of the prison. “We work with Department of Correction to create a sound environment for mom and baby right there in our prison.”

According to the state Office of the Controller General, a nursery at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution would likely cost upwards of five and a half million dollars to build— and more than $1.4 million each year to staff. 

Similar programs have been implemented in other states— and some of the limited research done on them shows positive results for mothers and children

Department of Correction spokesman Jason Miller said in an email the Department is aware of the legislation but has no additional comment at this time. 

 

The bill has yet to go for a vote in the State House. It would also need to pass the State Senate.

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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