When people are incarcerated, they are usually torn apart from their families. This could not be any truer for women. Most of the women who are incarcerated in the United States are mothers. Most of the time, the criminal justice system does not compensate, or does not do enough to compensate for, the damage that is done to families when parents are incarcerated.
With this in mind, it is refreshing to hear that in Indianapolis, Indiana Women’s Prison is running a program to keep incarcerated mothers close to their newborn babies. The program is called Wee Ones. Started in 2008, it allows incarcerated mothers to care for their newborns in a safe atmosphere. It is funded by donations. Regrettably, it is one out of only eight prison nurseries in the United States.
Mothers and babies are housed in a dormitory that is separate from the rest of the prisoners. Instead of having a bunk for for two prisoners, each room has a bed for a mother and a crib.
The criteria for getting into this program are strict. Women must have no violence on their records, and they must be low-level offenders. Their sentences must be short enough to the point where they are getting out by the time their children turn two. If any woman misbehaves, she will be kicked out of the program.
Providing a prison nursery gives women the opportunity to bond with their babies during a crucial period of growth. It also gives incarcerated women an environment where they can get their lives back on track. Women who participate in prison nurseries are half as likely to re-offend. Some people might question the positivity of letting a baby “live in a prison.” It is not bad to let babies “live in a prison” because they are taken care of very well, exposed to a clean environment and are close their mothers.