Currently, prisoners who are pregnant are assigned a doula who assists the mother, providing moral support and information needed to navigate pregnancy while incarcerated in the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MDOC). They meet with the mother at least twice during pregnancy, once to explain what to expect and then are present during delivery. They serve in the role of a government provided loved one as the mother gives birth, holding her hand, helping her with her breathing, wiping her brow, and feeding her ice chips if needed. Apparently actual family members are not allowed.
The day after the birth, the doula comes to take photos of the mother with her child and help her through her separation visit as the state takes their baby. Mothers are returned to prison the day following delivery without fail barring medical complications, never to see their children again until release or the child becomes old enough to visit.
“I always think about babies not understanding that they won’t be seeing their mom again for the feeding,” said Doula Project Director Raelene Baker. “They know the next time they eat, they don’t know they won’t be with mom.”
“It’s really horrible for the women,” said Shakopee Correctional Facility parenting coordinator Lori Timlin. “I really can’t emphasize how difficult it is for them.”
For mothers who are to be released within a few months after delivery, the MDOC provides breast pumps so that they can continue lactating if that is how they wish to feed their child after incarceration.
MDOC External Relations Director Safia Khan stated that there are currently 20 women at SCF (the only female prison in the state) who are pregnant, eight of whom are scheduled for release shortly after their due dates. “Looking at the data, a lot of these moms are soon going to be reunited with their children anyways,” she said. “Is a separation period going to negatively impact those children in a way that is not helpful to the communities?”
The new Healthy Start Act places mothers in community-based programs for the extent of their pregnancy and up to one year after delivery where they could bond more effectively with their children. It provides mothers with treatment and supportive services including classes on prenatal care and parenting, doula services, and a lactating program for mothers expected to serve longer sentences but still wish to provide their children with breast milk past their first year.
“It’s really about creating a healthy start for our children,” said Khan. “There’s more at stake here.”
Baker said the Healthy Start Act was a good beginning, but “the goal of our parent organization [is] to end prison birth in America.”
For now it seems to be part of the process of normalizing the caging of people and dehumanizing them as well as their children. Noting that most of the women will be released shortly after giving birth, the state prefers to keep them caged, separate them from their children rather than not having them locked up in the first place. It also perpetuates gender bias by ignoring incarcerated fathers. But this is progress of sorts in America today.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login