Imprisoned Mothers, Imprisoned Babies?

She pulls on her jacket while balancing the bottle in one hand and lowering her daughter into the stroller. “People say things like ‘just don’t get arrested,’ but it needs to be the other way around. Nobody grows up as a child and says, ‘I want to be an addict.'” Her voice shakes for a moment. “Don’t assume the worst about somebody just because they’re in jail or have an addiction, because you never know the real reason behind it. People assume that you must be a scumbag, but there’s just so much more to it. Maybe we’re more alike than you think.”

The above clip is a short snippet from an article at It takes a closer look at how women are treated in correctional facilities while pregnant and postpartum. Some of the issues highlighted are shocking including-

  1. Pregnant incarcerated women are often denied prenatal vitamins.
  2. Pregnant women may not receive routine prenatal Dr. appointments.
  3. When incarcerated pregnant women are allowed to see their practitioners they are often handcuffed and male prison staff stay in the room at all times.
  4. It is not uncommon for a woman in active labor to have her ankles shackled.
  5. All of the above go against the ethical treatment of patients, as stated by doctors and midwives.

At one woman shares her story and says,

Kebby Warner is a 25-year-old married prisoner in Michigan who was imprisoned for littering and passing a $350 stolen check. She writes, “My first month in prison was spent being sick. I was told by health care that my ‘illness’ was caused by stomach flu and that my other ‘symptoms’ were caused by stress. The day after I was released from quarantine, I was called to health care and informed that my ‘illness’ wasn’t stomach flu, but that I was pregnant. Putting the dates together I had conceived my baby the night before I was sentenced to prison.”


In most states, the law maintains that a woman with a vaginal birth must be out of the hospital at 24 hours after delivery.

“I’ve seen the state of other women who have come back lost after giving birth,” Warner wrote. “In a total state of shock and confusion. One woman I know turned to pills, getting high by taking others’ psychotropic drugs. She walked around the unit like a zombie, trying to dull the pain from the separation of her child. One night she OD’d on these pills, was rushed to the hospital, lucky to have survived. She was then taken to segregation and placed on suicide watch. It was so hard seeing her like that. At that time I wondered how I would feel after I had to leave my baby. I used to lay on my bunk at night feeling her more, talking to her or reading a children’s book I found in the library. I couldn’t imagine the day I wouldn’t feel her more or couldn’t talk to her anymore. When that day came, I was desperate.”

Warner was so desperate to stay with her baby, in fact, that she refused to eat, a move that bought her three extra days with her baby.

So what happens to these babies? Most end up with a relative or a friend of their mother’s while she is serving time. Some end up with their fathers. The rest become ‘dependent minors’ and become wards of the state, ending up in foster care. They enter ‘the system.’ It is at this point a CASA advocate would become involved.

The biggest concern is not only the mother’s poor treatment, the health risks that are imposed on the unborn baby by not receiving appropriate prenatal care, but the fact that mothers and children are denied bonding time, although the mothers are often expected to care for the children after being released. In essence, a mother can end up being released into society, having her child returned to her, and trying to parent a child she essentially does not know, a child she met and held for only a day. Statistics claim that once separated the majority of children do not see their mothers again while she remains incarcerated.

Some State facilities have special Mother/Baby wings which allow the infants to stay with their mothers, encourages breastfeeding, and requires the mothers to take parenting classes. It has been found that the recidivism rate of these prisoners, allowed to bond and care for their infants, is significantly less than those women who are forcibly separated from their children. However, some inmate mothers as well as many members of society feel strongly that no matter how similar to real world circumstances a prison wing is, prisons are not the place for child rearing. Some claim it is unethical to imprison children simply because their mothers are doing time.

To see what raising a child in prison looks like watch the video below.



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