New measure could allow female prisoners to raise babies in prison within first 18 months after giving birth

JEFFERSON CITY – Eligible female prisoners may soon be able to raise their babies for up to 18 months after giving birth while incarcerated in the Missouri prison system. 

Representatives Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, and Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, filed combined House Bills 1897 and 2414 in hopes to establish the “Correctional Center Nursery Program”. 

Rep. Trent believes female inmates should be able to immediately bond with their infants and thinks the positive mental health impact would be highly beneficial to both. Trent said he has spoken with wardens and prison personnel in multiple states and found that the program has actually decreased recidivism rates for women in other prison systems.

Babies born in prisons are generally sent into the foster care system, which can be very costly to the state. Other states with a program similar to the one proposed in Missouri typically receive funding for diapers, formula and other baby-related items through third-party charity programs.

According to Trent, any leftovers are usually sent to community food pantries and pregnancy resource centers. If the state were to provide funds for the program, Trent believes the cost would be well below $1 million per year.

“These programs are fairly minimal in cost,” Trent said. “There is a lot of outside help that comes to these programs. But because most of the instrumentalities of the nursery system are already assisted, there’s no new construction or anything that would be done. It would just be conversion of existing facilities into this purpose.”

For an expecting mother to be eligible for the program, she must be serving a minimum sentence of 12 to 18 months and have nonviolent, non-abusive records, while being a model prisoner. Each inmate participating in the program will be closely monitored to ensure their conditions have not changed and that the infant is not at risk. 

Missouri’s two women’s prisons are located in Vandalia and Chillicothe. According to Missouri’s Department of Corrections, 31 prisoners gave birth in 2020, compared to 49 prison births in 2019 and 68 in 2018. 

The legislation has passed the House and is in the Senate. For more information on the proposed measure, check out the combined bills’ full text here

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