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A sober living facility for pregnant offenders shows positive outcomes

Eli Chen/Delaware Public Media

Just over a year ago, the state set up a program for pregnant offenders with substance abuse issues, creating a facility rarely seen elsewhere in the country.


Before the facility, called New Expectations, was established, Department of Corrections commissioner Robert Coupe believed that the state needed to improve its services to pregnant inmates.


“If they deliver in prison, they only get a day or two in prison for that child and that child has to be placed," said Coupe.


And he had learned about a prison in New York that built a nursery to accommodate mothers there. But Coupe was worried that creating a facility like that would end up sending more female offenders to prison, if judges thought it was a better option than sending them back on their own. So he wanted to find a better way.


“There’s got to be a way we can do something in the community that is a secure setting, but closer to normalcy," thought Coupe.

Outside, the facility looks much like any other house on the street. But there are 17 women living inside who take parenting and yoga classes and receive counseling.

New Expectations in Newark has hosted 26 women since November 2014 and seen the birth of 16 babies. During their stay, the women have access to pre-natal and post-natal care. The length of their stay depends on their sentence, but residents typically will be with the program for six months.  

Many of them are first-time mothers and they generally feel that this was a better alternative than staying in prison.

“I got to keep her with me, that was the biggest plus," said former resident, Kimberley Warren, as she carried her daughter Era.

Warren had been charged for theft and had a history of using heroin. So there was concern she’d relapse from the stress of being pregnant. After six weeks at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, she came to New Expectations. It took her a while to warm up to the place, but the camaraderie she experienced helped her transition to motherhood.

“Making friendships was a real big help. I was very hostile, didn’t want to do that, wanted to keep to myself. But there’s only so much keeping to yourself in a house full of 14 women.”

Jill Walters directs operations at New Expectations. She says for these women, recovery is a process that goes beyond substance abuse and addresses mental health.

“Even after they stop using substances, it can take a while for their behavior and attitudes to change," said Walters. "Even after people are clean after a while, they have a hard time breaking habits, like honesty and manipulation and not wanting to take advantage of positive opportunities. But that will all improve, it just takes time.”

According to the Department of Corrections, there are typically 11 to 20 pregnant inmates at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, during any given week. The total population is usually around 375.

Department of Corrections officials say it’s too soon to gauge the program’s long term prospects, but add they have seen many initial success stories and they’re considering launching a sober living facility for men.