Women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population, it is stated. At the Ohio Reformatory, for instance, the warden estimates that 75 percent of the 2,300 inmates housed there are mothers.
There the child-rearing facility has been made available. But only non-violent offenders who arrive at the prison pregnant or with infants and are serving relatively short sentences qualify.
The Achieving Baby Care Success program began in June 2001, Anne Hawke
says in a radio story she produced for NPR.
The 12 mothers currently participating live in a special wing of the prison in Ohio. The babies sleep in identical cribs in their mothers' cells. Between prison roll calls, mothers take their children to the in-house nursery for scheduled activities.
At the colorful prison nursery, Kristin Kennedy, a 28-year-old inmate from Zanesville, Ohio, awaits the public librarian's arrival for story-time. Kennedy was pregnant with her third child on the day she reported to prison.
"I made some bad decisions," she says, her nearly 10-month-old baby on her lap. "I had some weed in my purse. I got pulled over. They found it and charged me with trafficking."
Kennedy's husband is also in prison on a drug charge, and their two older children live with relatives.
Sheirra Haines, a mother of three, calms her infant in a rocking chair nearby. However chaotic the women's lives may have been outside, the routine at the Ohio Reformatory never changes.
Haines and Kennedy tick off the daily schedule, echoing one another's words: get up, change diaper, dress infant, take walk.
"By 11 o'clock count, they'll be ready for their nap again," Haines says, referring to the hour she must report to her cell.
A firearms charge landed her behind bars, she says, adding that she hopes she and her infant are out by March.
The ultimate goal, says warden Sheri Duffey, is to wean them away from recurrent criminal behaviour and hopefully keep the next generation out of prison.
The program "maintains that bond that the mother and child has," Duffey says. Although research is limited, a small study in Nebraska several years ago suggested that prison nurseries may make mothers less likely to commit another crime and end up back behind bars.