Family & Corrections Network
The Fourth North American Conference on the Family & Corrections
October 10-12, 1993 Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
THE CHILDREN'S CENTRE -BEDFORD HILLS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY/
Le Centre pour enfants a l'etablissement correctionnel Bedford Hills
Sister Elaine Roulet, Director
Patricia O'Rourke, Director of Nursery in Taconic Prison, NY
Mary Reichers, Community Volunteer
c/o Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
247 Harris Road, Bedford Hills, NY 10507
TEL: (914) 241-3100 Ext. 384
Le Centre pour enfants a ete concu pour offrir un environnement sur et agreable aux meres et aux enfants, qui s'y rencontrent dans une atmosphere decontractee. C'est une aire de jeu bien equipee, adjacente au parloir, a l'etablissement correctionnel de Bedford Hills, a Bedford Hills (New York), et dont s'occupent une puericultrice et entre sept a huit detenues qui y sont en alternance. Le Centre est ouvert 365 jours sur 365, de 8 h 30 a 15 h 30, pour que tout enfant qui vienne en prison beneficie d'un accompagnement (par l'employe du Centre) et ne se voit pas refuser l'acces a sa mere.
Le Centre fournit jouets, activites et jeux pour les enfants de tout age et toutes capacites. Les livres y sont nombreux et varies. On y trouve une table de documentation, juste a l'exterieur du Centre, pour que les detenues et les visiteurs aient acces a une information pertinente sur le soin des enfants. Des articles sur des sujets comme la discipline et l'enfant, que faire avec un enfant qui mord, qui mouille son lit, etc., y sont disposes.
Celles qui s'occupent des enfants sont des detenues choisies, a qui on a donne des lecons sur le developpement de l'enfant, sur les facons de faire face a des situations difficiles et de stimuler la creativite. Elles jouent un role tres important dans le bon fonctionnement du Centre. Elles organisent des jeux, preparent des projets et tiennent les lieux propres et agreables en les decorant selon la saison. Elles doivent etre sensibles aux besoins, non seulement des enfants, mais aussi des meres et des visiteurs. Elles doivent etre disponibles, mais ne pas s'imposer, ce qui n'est pas toujours evident. Elles assurent la liaison entre la population carcerale et le Centre pour enfants, assurant une importante retroaction au sujet des programmes mis en oeuvre et des facons d'ameliorer les services.
L'histoire de la pouponniere de l'etablissement correctionnel Bedford Hills remonte a 1901. Differentes politiques a differentes epoques ont marque son evolution. Ce qu'il est important de relever, c'est que l'etablissement Bedford Hills possede encore une pouponniere, meme s'il s'agit actuellement d'un etablissement a securite maximale. Aujourd'hui, meres et bebes partagent la meme piece a un etage reserve de l'infirmerie de la prison. Un centre a ete ouvert en 1990 pour repondre aux besoins des meres qui participent a des programmes d'etudes ou de travail. Le centre fournit un service professionnel de garde de jour pour bebes. Son personnel se compose de detenues formees pour dispenser des soins, sous la surveillance d'une puericultrice. En 1991, un centre prenatal a ete cree. Ici, des cours d'education parentale et sur le developpement des enfants sont donnes aux detenues enceintes. Ces cours se poursuivent apres la naissance du bebe. Des certificats sont remis aux detenues participantes.
Dernierement, un programme "Sponsor A Baby" a ete mis sur pied; il offre des services aux bebes et aux meres qui quittent la prison. Des Eglises repondent a leurs besoins fondamentaux, assurant le transport a la mise en liberte, fournissant berceaux, poussettes et vetements. La "Maison Providence" fournit, a la liberation, le logement aux meres et aux bebes pendant une periode allant jusqu'a un an. Ici, les femmes sont aidees dans la recherche d'un logement permanent, d'un emploi, et pour la garde de jour des enfants. C'est dans cette periode critique que les femmes sont reunies avec leur famille.
Les victimes cachees du systeme penal sont les enfants. Ce programme unique, l'un des rares programmes de pouponniere en prison en Amerique du Nord, vise a alleger la souffrance infligee aux enfants, qui n'ont commis aucun crime.
THE CHILDREN'S CENTER
Children are the hidden victims of the penal system. They have committed no crime, yet they are punished along with their mothers. Often, the separation from their mothers causes them to be sentenced to a strange neighborhood, a strange school.
The Children's Center at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility offers a wide range of services to Bedford inmates and their children. The Center's main program is designed to help women preserve and strengthen family ties and receive visits from their children as often as possible in a warm, nurturing, atmosphere. Inmates are kept informed about their children's physical, intellectual and emotional well-being while they are apart.
Through its various classes and projects, the program helps inmates to better understand their role as parents. By being given a responsible, decision-making role in the daily operation of the Center, inmates are able to reinforce a feeling of self-worth and help develop the program.
The program is funded by the Department of Correctional Services and administered by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn. It is an 'inmate-centered' program designed to give the major responsibilities for its activities to inmates. They help plan all activities, make the contacts to arrange for workshops, teach and initiate programs. The Center adds a dimension to the prison community and reached out into the broader neighboring community as well.
There are seven major departments of The Children's Center: The Children's Center, Parenting Center, Prison Nursery, Infant Day Care Center, Prenatal Center, Child Advocacy Office and the Taping Room. The Director and moving spirit who leads and binds the program is Sister Elaine Roulet, C.S.J.
All of the departments are located at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in three different buildings, but all work closely together.
I. THE CHILDREN'S CENTER:
The heart of our entire program is concretely seen in our Children's Center. There, in a well-equipped playroom, we witness daily the bonding of mother and child in the painful prison setting. The center proudly tells all visitors that we are open three hundred sixty-five days a year.
The room is equipped with games, age-appropriate toys, building blocks, housekeeping corner and easels for free expression painting. Our children's library is a source of great pride.
Holidays find the Center cheerfully furnished with appropriate seasonal decorations and matching craft activities. This is the only prison in the country where children are allowed to visit their mothers unescorted. The Children's Center staff person becomes the responsible adult.
Realizing that at times it is necessary to have private time for adult conversation, the Center welcomes children to come and play during that period under the supervision of skilled caregivers.
Outside our Center is a huge mural that says 'Joy is unbreakable, so it is perfectly safe in the hands of children.'
Truly, joy is seen in both our Overnight Program and our Summer Program which takes place in The Children's Center.
II. THE PARENTING CENTER:
Under the guidance of Sister Elaine, inmates also oversee other activities of the Center. Inmate responsibilities usually involve more than one area of endeavor. Caregivers play a key role in the Summer Program and other seasonal activities. Cooperation amongst all areas of the Parenting Center is one of its greatest strengths.
Below, listed alphabetically, are the Parenting Center's primary concerns:
A. CHILD DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE COURSE (CDA)
B. CHILDREN'S ADVOCATE OFFICE
C. CHILDREN'S LIBRARY
D. FOSTER CARE
E. HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES
F INFANT DAY CARE CENTER
G. MENTAL HYGIENE PROGRAM - WEST WING
H. MOTHERS' GROUP
I. NURSERY AIDES
J. OVERNIGHT PROGRAM
K. PARENTING COURSES
L. PRENATAL CENTER
M. RECORDS AND TEACHING MATERIAL
N. SUMMER PROGRAM
O. STORY CORNER
P. BILINGUAL PARENTING
Q. SPONSOR A BABY
R. TRANSPORTATION CLINIC
S. TOY LIBRARY
T. CHOICES AND CHANGES
A. CHILD DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE COURSE (CDA):
Four inmate caregivers in our Center have earned their credentials as Child Development Associates, and we are happy to announce that other inmates are currently in the program. The CDA is a national accreditation program which prepares candidates to teach in an accredited nursery school anywhere in this country.
A CDA candidate must successfully complete 640 hours of practical work with nursery age children as well as a demanding number of reading and writing assignments. This process takes a minimum of three months after the 640 hours have been completed. The candidate must prepare a portfolio, meet with her advisor and attend local assessment-team meetings. The program continues to expand.
B. CHILDREN'S ADVOCATE OFFICE:
As an outgrowth of our program, we have established an office that addresses all child-related problems. Trained advocates meet with inmate mothers individually. Contacts are made with families, schools and agencies. Cases that involve out-of-state transportation and unusual problems are directed to this office.
C. CHILDREN'S LIBRARY:
Books play an important role in the Children's Center. Both mothers and children are encouraged to read books from our Center library. Caregivers help mothers to select age-appropriate books. From time to time, children and mothers are shown Reading Rainbow Films, and special story-time sessions are arranged.
Books are encouraged as holiday and birthday gifts, with the Center supplying the books. Children are encouraged to take books home. The Center also supplies books to the prison trailers to encourage reading when families share time together.
D. FOSTER CARE:
The Inmate Foster Care Committee is composed of an outside-staff foster care advisor, an inmate chairperson, and inmate members.
The committee meets weekly to carry out its goals of helping women learn about their legal rights and responsibilities as incarcerated mothers. With this information, the women learn how to help themselves, and in turn, strengthen the bond with their children. We plan the monthly Chit Chat Meeting, which is designed to meet this goal, and acts as a forum where the women can share their concerns about their children and family relationships.
Services of this committee have multiplied steadily as an ever-increasing number of concerned mothers have stepped forward to ask for help.
The following are some of the ways the Inmate Foster Care Committee is serving the inmates:
Letter Writing - Women are helped in writing letter to their caseworkers, the Family Court and to the social service agencies. The women are instructed in how to keep careful records of all correspondence and telephone calls. The women are also encouraged to write cards and letters to their caseworkers in order to renew contact and to arrange visits with their children.
Direct Services - Since telephone communication with the social service agencies is often difficult (most social service agencies do not accept collect phone calls), the women are aided by the staff advisor who works on their behalf placing telephone calls to agencies and to their caseworkers in order to renew contact and to arrange visits with their children.
Monthly Chit Chat Meetings - These are open to the inmate population. The members of the Inmate Foster Care Committee perform plays by role-playing topics that are informative. In addition, outside speakers, such as Family Court judges, Legal Aid lawyers, supervisors of social service agencies and organizations such as Phoenix House address this group.
The Foster Care Handbook - The committee has published The Foster Care Handbook for Incarcerated Parents: A Manual of Your Rights and Responsibilities.
The manual will be distributed to all New York State correctional facilities, as well as to social service agencies, attorneys, law guardians, Family Court judges, etc.. The manual is being translated into Spanish.
Social Worker of the Month Award - In order to demonstrate our appreciation to a social worker who has consistently maintained contact between the mother and her children, the mother and the committee gives a citation to this person.
The Inmate Foster Care Committee is grateful to those social workers who help mothers with their children in foster care. The problems of those mothers are traumatic and unique. When the mother is incarcerated, problems are multiplied tenfold and a very special worker is needed for her. We do what we can to recognize and acknowledge our gratitude at an annual event to honor outstanding professionals in the social services field and caring foster parents.
The Inmate Foster Care Committee Support Group - Under the guidance of a staff social worker (MSW), members of the committee receive ongoing training in becoming facilitators for support groups. With the social worker in attendance, the support group meets weekly to help mothers express their feelings relating to all areas of foster care, including termination of parental rights and adoption.
The Foster Care Committee has made valuable videos with inmates role-playing on the following subjects:
'The Mock Trial' (role-playing of an incarcerated mother facing termination of parental rights)
'How to Talk to Your Child on the telephone and When Visiting'
'A Rap Session Between the Mother and the Social Worker'
'How to Tell Your Child You are in Prison'
'How to Establish a Relationship with Your Social Worker'
E. HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES:
Under the direction of inmate staff members, the Center provides special programs to help mothers and children share the holidays. Games are played and parties are held on every major holiday. There are gifts for the children at Christmas and Hanukah donated by many different church groups, schools, individuals and organizations. During the last holiday season over nine hundred and fifty children came to the Center and were greeted with carols, cookies and gifts which their mothers chose for them in The Parenting Center's Christmas Toy Center. This is a large undertaking, and it can only work with the help of the outside community and the strong support of the facility administration.
F. INFANT DAY CARE CENTER:
In February 1990, our Infant Day Care Center opened. Its purpose is to care for the babies of nursery mothers who are programmed into school or work assignments. It also provides CDA interns with the opportunity to create and manage a quality infant day care center.
The Center provides dependable, professional day care for our nursery babies. It is staffed by inmate caregivers who are trained and supervised by a Child Development Associate. They provide a nurturing environment that stimulates each baby's individual development. Outside volunteers, known as our 'Grandmothers' Group', also spend a great deal of time helping out in the Center and, in some instances, acting as CDA advisors.
Participating mothers are asked to:
-Have their babies fed, changed and ready to leave the nursery with the escort officer at a designated time.
-Provide clearly marked bottles for their babies.
-Give written instructions informing the caregivers of babies' special needs.
-Pick up their babies immediately following their assignments.
G. MENTAL HYGIENE PROGRAM - WEST WING:
Often in life we are called to be the parent's parent. The Mental Hygiene Program gives the Children's Center inmate staff the opportunity to parent those women who are less fortunate than others. They spend each Friday evening with the women. Bingo, cards and guessing games are played. Donated prizes such as soaps, shampoos, lipsticks and cigarettes are provided. The women have come to look forward to these evenings, and staff members consider it useful and relaxing therapy for the women.
H. MOTHER'S GROUP:
A certified social worker conducts group sessions for women who have children and want an opportunity to discuss their relationships. In addition to this service, the Children's Center provides the services of a family therapist.
I. NURSERY AIDES:
An inmate staff member works with the nursery coordinators. She sews for the nursery babies, making bibs, dresses, quilts and even winter jackets. It is also her responsibility to help with the inventory and with distribution of baby clothes.
J. OVERNIGHT PROGRAM:
Some host parents in the community have found the summer experience with our children so gratifying that they have volunteered to host children one Saturday night a month during the school year. Children come up in the Children's Center bus on Saturday morning and visit their mothers until 3:30 p.m. They go home with a host family and are returned the next morning to visit again. A bus returns them to New York City on Sunday afternoon.
K. PARENTING COURSES:
The Parenting Center offers courses ranging from the prenatal stage to adulthood.
1. "Parenting Through Films - The New View": This is a ten-week course organized and taught by inmate staff. Each week a film is shown on some aspect of parenting, such as nourishing, discipline, play, abuse, separation, books, sex and sex stereotyping, teenage parenting and step-families. Through our films we also journey to other countries and study ways of parenting in a variety of cultures. The films are followed by general discussion. Response to the course had been so overwhelming that a follow-up course "The New View Part II" is now also taught. Using the same format, it covers many parenting aspects in greater depth, as well as broader aspects of the human condition. We are gradually building a library of Spanish films on parenting.
2. "Parenting the Child from Birth Through Preschool": This course is offered under the auspices of the Prenatal Center. It is designed especially for mothers in the nursery and women who are pregnant.
3. "Choices and Changes": (See Section "T")
L. PRENATAL CENTER:
Our strong conviction is that the prenatal period in a woman's life is a most critical time. This conviction led us to the creation of a prenatal center. The Center affords women the opportunity to receive parenting classes, address their drug problems and learn sewing, crocheting and other handwork.
M. RECORDS AND TEACHING MATERIAL:
In many ways the workings of The Children's Center Program and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility are unique. Happily, more and more concern for inmate children is being awakened nationwide, even internationally. One inmate staff member devotes time to collecting the history of the Program and has established a small archive department, both written and pictorial, which is often used. She is also active in searching our new materials or studies on children, education, imprisoned women, drugs and their effects on babies and children, and virtually anything else that touches our mothers and children. These files are now extensive and used by facility college students as well as the Parenting Center staff.
N. SUMMER PROGRAM:
Since 1980, the Center has sponsored a Summer Program for the children of inmates. The program runs for approximately ten weeks each summer.
Host families are solicited in the Westchester County area, as well as nearby Fairfield County in Connecticut. They keep a child for a week. Each day the child is brought to visit with his or her mother from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. Mother and child have special lunches together and take part in regular day camp activities. It is an opportunity to spend time together reading, talking, playing a game or just sitting quietly. A special event of each week is our talent show.
For children whose guardian will not give them permission to stay overnight, we provide daily transportation, which to a great extent is handled by volunteers.
The Program works well due to the cooperation of the inmates staff, outside staff and volunteers from all over the country who give of their talent and time.
The interest and support of local citizens is a growing source of strength for the Program. One of the host mothers, recently writing an article for The New York Times entitled 'Taking in The Children of Prisoners', praised the value of the experience for her own child as well as the visiting child. She ended by saying:
'The summer flew by with piano recitals, dress-up games, pretend school - the girls even got bored together. My hope is that the memory of the visit will stay with both of the children, that somewhere in the future they will remember that 'people are the same wherever you go and they will perhaps be more likely to 'live in harmony, side-by-side', just as the song says'.
O. BILINGUAL PARENTING:
The Parenting Center now has a course in which women will be able to learn English while exploring issues of mothers and children. This program will address those women who need to learn English and provide a bilingual parenting class.
This course will teach women speaking, reading, writing and comprehension of the English language, the basic English as a Second Language (ESL) material. The curriculum will be based on parenting and child development issues, particularly topics of concern to mothers in prison.
Q. SPONSOR A BABY:
Sponsor A Baby program was created to fulfill the needs of the babies upon leaving the facility.
When an inmate mother leaves with her baby, it helps enormously to have some of the necessities to help them start a new beginning.
When an inmate mother is denied the nursery, her family is then burdened unexpectedly. 'Sponsor A Baby Program', through the help of churches, temples, organizations and groups, ease this burden. We interview the mothers at the prison to determine the baby's needs and where he/she will be living. The outside coordinator, Madeline Muligan, contacts the group who is interested in sponsoring a baby and makes all the arrangements.
Babies' needs range from formula, clothes, crib, stroller, etc. These items can be purchased brand new or used items in good condition.
R. TRANSPORTATION CLINIC:
One of the biggest problems for many inmates is arranging to have their children brought to Bedford to visit.
The Parenting Center provides four monthly buses from New York City, originating in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Arrangements are also made to provide transportation for disabled family members and others not able to use the bus. An inmate staff member makes and posts fliers giving information on the bus schedules. This inmate also handles arrangements for the Overnight Program, with the help of an outside volunteer who makes the telephone calls.
The Upstate Bus is handled by the Family Reunion Office. On the second Saturday of each month a bus, originating in Buffalo and stopping in Rochester, Syracruse and Albany, comes to Bedford. This bus is funded by the Department of Corrections. Inmates who wish to receive tickets for their family members must write to the Family Reunion Office. The Family Reunion personnel will mail tickets to the inmates so that inmates can mail tickets to their families.
If you have a transportation problem, maybe we can help. Write to Sister Elaine Roulet, Director of the Children's Center.
S. TOY LIBRARY:
Inmates may come to the Toy Library before their child comes to visit. They select games, crafts and toys that will be set aside and waiting for them when the child arrives. When the visit is over, some of these items may be taken home. Reusable toys and games are returned to the Toy Library. The mothers are encouraged to come to the Center to learn how to use the toys and play the various games prior to the visit.
T. CHOICES AND CHANGES (see workshop presentation elsewhere in Proceedings):
This is a class designed to help inmates develop self-awareness and to learn the process of decision-making and accountability, both of which are basic ingredients in being a good parent to your children and yourself. The emphasis in this class is on personal responsibility. The transactional analysis model is taught because it is easily understood, and we then have a 'common language'.
Capability is the focus for the word self-esteem. Nothing happens without structure, discipline and goals. Only when these begin to be implemented can self-esteem become part of one's personality.
Each participant keeps a journal, and specific writing assignments are assigned each day to help clarify and focus thinking. The only requirement for this class is English literacy. This is a five-day-a-week, three-month course.
Curriculum is available upon request.
III. THE NURSERY:
Women whose babies are born while incarcerated may keep them at Bedford for up to one year. Babies are born in a hospital outside of the prison. When they return, and as long as the baby remains, mother and child are housed in The Nursery, located in the facility medical building. If there is certitude that the mother will be paroled by the time the infant is eighteen months old, the infant can, with special permission, remain.
The history of the nursery dates back to 1901, when what is now a maximum security prison for women, was the New York State Reformatory for Women. While the rules as well as the name have changed dramatically over the years, the importance of keeping mother and child together is acknowledged and respected here, and has been during the facilities long history. The child's best interest is paramount in the philosophy of our nursery program.
Living quarters for the babies and mother are in roomy surroundings on an entire floor of the facility medical building. The Children's Center has helped to make the playroom an especially lovely place where bright colors, quilts on the walls and a large selection of educational toys and books help begin to motivate the babies very early to explore, experiment and test new ways to learn.
IV. MY MOTHER'S HOUSE:
My Mother's House is a foster home run under the auspices of St. Joseph's Family Services. Its purpose is to house the children of inmates who have no family members to care for them while their mothers are incarcerated. The home is staffed by religious sisters. Sister Elaine chose the name so that no child would feel any stigma when asked where he or she lives. They can say with pride, 'I live at My Mother's House'.
V. PROVIDENCE HOUSE:
There are eight Providence Houses. Six are located in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in New Rochelle. Five houses are for battered women and their children. Each is capably managed by a former Bedford inmate. Mothers and their children are provided with housing, food, clothing and counseling while they find other living arrangements. Providence House V is in Brooklyn and is for paroled women who need a place to live while they seek employment and permanent housing. Some of the women are able to earn spending money by working in the Providence House Thrift Shop, located at 466 Bergen Street in Brooklyn. The Thrift Shop is under the direction of a professional manager and helps to defray some Providence House expenses, provides some clothing for the prison nursery and is an important source of per diem income to paroled women while they seek employment. When women and men leave prison, they can go to the Thrift Shop for clothing. Women from all of the Providence Houses receive the same service.
VI. HOUR CHILDREN, INC.:
Because of the growth of the correctional facilities our vision for the children needed to be broadened. Hour Children, Inc., was founded for all those children whose lives are governed by the facility visiting hours, hour of mothers' sentencing and hour of separation. This incorporation addresses itself to the needs of these suffering children.
The nursery at Bedford Hills, Correctional Facility has a history that goes back to 1901 when the New York State Reformatory (as it was called at the time) for women was opened.
At that time mothers were permitted to keep their babies until their first birthday. Mothers whose sentences would be completed within eighteen months were allowed to keep their baby for the entire time. However, while mothers were permitted to keep their babies for twelve or eighteen months, they were encouraged to place their children outside within two or three months of the child's adoption. There were still times, however, when as many as 45 babies were in the nursery. Studies of bonding between mother and child had not yet been made, and the importance of child's social, emotional and intellectual development during its first year was not understood. Mothering was considered an important part of a woman's education, for her sake more than the baby's.
In 1930, Auburn Prison for women closed and the women were moved to Bedford Hills across the road from the reformatory. With the coming of the prison women to the area, the faciltity's name was changed to Westfield Farm. Prison and Reformatory were kept completely separate except that they shared one Superintendent. Prison women kept their babies in the Reformatory nursery and were allowed to visit their babies twice a week.
That same year, through the work of women on the National Committee On Prisons and Prison Labor, and in particular Dr. Ellen E. Polter, legislation was drafted to permit women to keep their babies with them for a year whether the women were in prison or reformatories. The bill was signed into law in 1930 by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is still on the books as Corrections Law 611, and has remained virtually unchanged.
In 1972, the term, 'reformatory' ceased to be used in New York State and the Prison Reformatory were combined into one unit and renamed Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. The name applies today and the facility has completed its metamorphosis from reformatory to top security prison for women. We are fortunate through all the changes the nursery has survived.
More mothers keep their babies with them for the full year now, and mothers and children live together on a floor of the medical building. In some respects nursery policy is unchanged from 90 years ago thanks to the humaneness and farsightedness of Dr. Ellen Polter who wrote in 1929:
*'When it can possibly be arranged the birth of the child should take place outside of the institution, and every care should be taken to safeguard the child from any stigma.' Bedford babies are born at the Westchester County Medical Center or Northern Westchester Hospital Center in Mount Kisco. Nothing on the baby's birth certificate identifies the mother as a prisoner.
*'The institution, she wrote, is responsible for giving the mother training before the birth of the child to prepare her to care for it.'
Pregnant women are offered a Parenting Program which includes required weekly sessions with a Public Health Nurse and volunteers. Weekly sessions with trained inmates in a course called Parenting Through Films and another, a Red Cross course entitled, 'The Infant from Birth to Two.' These classes are supplemented with films, discussions about the women's questions, and current literature on pediatric studies. Perhaps more than any other point, we try to emphasize that to be a mother is to be a teacher, and many of the attitudes their babies will take with them into adulthood will be established in the first few years of life. Even if the mothers will have to give up their baby for a while after the baby is a year old, they are in a position to make profound contributions to the baby's future life.
*'Standards for prenatal, obstetrics, and post-natal care should be made available to all institutions receiving pregnant women.' Bedford has medical facilities available for mother and child. Mothers are checked regularly by an Obstetrician and Gynecologist. The infants are seen monthly by a Pediatrician, and a registered nurse is on the grounds full-time.
*'The mothers should take part in the institutional life outside the maternity unit whenever possible.' Any of the mothers who were taking educational courses, Adult Basic Education, High School Equivalency classes, or College Courses are encouraged to go back to school within a month after the baby is born. Not all other programs are available to them, but the need for them to do something besides watch the baby is recognized, and the other activity is encouraged. An in-house Infant Day Care Center was opened in 1990 by the Children's Center for mothers returning to classes and various other prison programs. This gives them an opportunity to test the rigors of working and caring for a child at the same time.
In the years just after the Second World War, Jean Piaget, John Bowlby, Erik Eriksen, Harold Harlow, Rene Spitz, Anna Freud, and many others began to study the effect on children of separation from parents, the concept of bonding, and how and when humans learn. The impact of these studies is just beginning to be felt by the general public and still has a long way to go as far as social legislation is concerned. The fact that New York State is the only State in our country permitting prison nurseries is a sad commentary on our national concern for infants.
With 90 years of experience behind it, there is still no one at Bedford who would presume to say that they know all of the answers about prison nurseries. On one thing most of us agree: though we doubt that prison is where most of the togetherness should be, mothers and children should be together. There are, of course, those who believe that deprivation of her children should be part of mother's punishment. There are some correctional officers who have seen mothers exploit their role as mother, and who have become cynical about prison nurseries. Certainly this sometimes happens, but it does not change the need of baby for mother. Some women in prison fantasize about being good mothers while the pressures of the street are safely out of the way, but if they can give their baby a good beginning year, even that can be a plus for the child, and ultimately for society.
The baby's best interest must share priorities with prison security. Being a good mother is one of the heaviest responsibilities a woman can assume, but a prison teaches dependence, not independence. It does not encourage intelligent decision-making. Mother cannot always decide when to pick up the baby and when to put it down. Even in the nursery there are head counts and lock-ins.
We have serious reservations about separating mother and child at age one. In most cases bonding of mother and child will have taken place and separation can be traumatic for the baby.
If another strong, loving caregiver is available outside, the child will probably make a healthy adjustment. If not, separation from mother can be seriously disturbing. In an effort to get an expert's opinion on the subject, we invited Dr. Benjamin Spock to come and visit our nursery. He told us the ideal would be to keep the child with the mother through preschool years. The mere economics of that probably precludes any serious consideration of it, though it is done in the Kinderheim in Frankfort Germany today.
Our strong conviction is that many of the mothers presently incarcerated might well qualify for alternative programs to prison, and it is in this area that our greatest efforts should be used.
The following arguments are frequently used by State Legislators to keep nurseries out of women's prisons:
*'Babies in prison will be afraid of men because they never see them.' More than half of the correction officers in Bedford are men. Fewer than 20% of the children of our inmates were living in a house with father when mother was arrested.
*'Babies are better off in Foster Care.' In a few cases this could be true, but not in the vast majority.
*'Convicted women beat their children.' The problem of child abuse is a national one. We have workshops and seminars at Bedford on child abuse, and we hope through helping women understand their emotions and their children's needs that we can help cut down on child abuse. If the facility medical department and the Superintendent feel that the woman is potentially dangerous to her child or other children, she is not permitted to keep her child with her.
*'What if one of the children is taken hostage?' When not on the nursery floor, mother and child are always accompanied by a correction officer. As a further security measure, pregnant women move to the nursery floor a month before delivery.
*'Prison nurseries are inconvenient and expensive.' That's true, but nowhere near as inconvenient and expensive as the possibly maltreated, maladjusted, permanently damaged street children who might have been saved with intelligent, loving care through infancy and weren't because no one was there to give it to them.
*'Government doesn't belong in the baby business.' We can think of nothing the government should be more concerned about than seeing to it that its future citizens get a healthy start, especially youngsters of poor minorities who make up the majority of our imprisoned women.
*'The baby didn't commit a crime so it shouldn't be in prison.' As one of our young mothers said, 'My baby ain't in prison. My baby's with his mama.'
*'Jail babies never smile. They aren't happy babies. Babies raised in a restricted area will never smile, and they develop slower.' We find it hard to take this statement seriously except that it was seriously repeated several times by state legislators, and is suspected by others. A woman who came to visit our Parenting Center said of the babies in our nursery, 'I suppose they're all autistic, aren't they'
Our babies are bright, smiling, healthy, sociable children. The last time we tested them formally all but one tested average or above average on the Bayley Scale. Because of the infrequency of our access to a trained tester we have not recently given the Bayley. We are presently looking into the Brazelton Infant Test, which is quicker and less complicated to administer.
*'Babies will live with the blight of prison on them forever. All their lives when they fill out job applications they will have to say that they lived in jail.' The latter part of the statement is sheer nonsense. The first part may well be true, but not because their chief caregiver and supporter, mother, was in prison and unable to care for them. We see many youngsters in our Children's Center visiting their mother, heavily burdened with 'the blight of prison.'
To date, there has been no study made to determine how the program may have affected the child's future development. Since so many factors would enter into this, it would be a difficult study to make. We do know that the babies here are much loved, bright, beautiful, healthy children, very outgoing, and in no way stigmatized or hurt during their year here. Occasionally, we have a depressed mother, whose depression may touch the child. However, the whole purpose of the children's program is to help give the children a healthier, more secure beginning in a nurturing environment.
Watching the moments of separation also strengthens our convictions about the need for much broader use of alternatives to prison. There is no question that the separations are traumatic for mother and child. We have written a number of pediatricians about this and read extensively hoping to learn the best moment for separation. There isn't one. It will vary from child to child. Many pediatricians feel that if the baby goes out to another loving caregiver he or she will make the adjustment without being damaged. Here again, each case is different. The large majority of babies go out to grandmother if mother must stay behind, but statistics indicate that only half of the young mothers leave with their babies. We are also happy to note that other states are beginning to show an awakening interest in establishing prison nurseries or reestablishing ones that had been closed. Many representatives from state prisons, and even prisons from abroad come to visit our nursery.
PHILOSOPHY OF THE PRISON NURSERIES
It has long been recognized that inmates who maintain strong ties with their families during incarceration have a greater chance of positive rehabilitation and run a much lower risk of recidivism.
Participation in the Nursery program promoted an unusually strong bond between mother and child. Added to this are parenting, educational, vocational and substance abuse treatment programs. It is felt that the combination of bonding, education, and treatment provide a strong foundation for a change in lifestyle.
An additional, and very important, benefit of the program is its impact on the babies involved. Because of maternal backgrounds which generally include drug usage, the pregnancies of most Nursery candidates are considered "at risk". Despite this, the babies exceed all expectations. They are bright, healthy, and developmentally appropriate (most are very advanced, particularly in gross motor skills). They may be due to the fact the once incarcerated, the pregnant inmates are given excellent medical care. Because of the communal setting, the babies are extremely social.
This advantage to the infants provides strong justification for the existence of a nursery program. These children would be less likely to have such a strong upbringing, if relatives or foster care were to take custody of them.
ADMISSION TO THE NURSERY PROGRAM
Not every pregnant woman is accepted into the prison nurseries. The applicant's criminal background, past parenting performance, disciplinary record and education needs are assessed, before a determination is made by the prison administration. Once accepted, these women are expected to make the best use of their time in prison. Along with developing their mothering skills and caring for their infants, they are also expected to partake in the programs the prisons have to offer in order to make a decent life for their children and themselves after release.
THE INFANT CENTER
Once admitted and programmed to the nurseries, the mothers keep to a busy schedule. Baby care must be provided while they are in CASAT, school, etc... An Infant Center has been established in each facility to provide quality day care for the babies while their mothers attend programs. These day care centers are staffed by trained, carefully-screened inmate baby-sitters along with outside volunteers. Besides providing development care for the infants, the Centers require that the mothers simulate the discipline of single mothers in the community. They have to schedule their babies' feedings and nap times around their program schedule, and bring the babies to and from the Centers on time.
Questions are often asked about the need for separation between mother and baby when the child reached his first birthday. Fortunately, two-thirds of the mothers and children are not separated. Most babies leave with paroled mothers, or at least leave when their mothers go to work release, so very few separations occur. Of the one-third remaining babies, most go home to families. Less than 10% of the nursery babies are placed in foster care and, in these cases, every effort is made for an excellent temporary placement.
The prison nurseries provide an excellent opportunity for women who have faced the dilemma of being pregnant and imprisoned. Most of the mothers realize the privilege they have been given and make the most of their time on the nurseries. It can be a time of rebirth for them; a new start in life to accompany their babies' new beginning.
The portrait of the typical nursery participant is that of a single women in her late twenties who had other children prior to her latest pregnancy. She was committed to the Department of Corrections from New York City for a drug offense and received a minimum sentence of just under two years. She had previous contact with the criminal justice system and had served either a prior jail or prison sentence. The nursery participant spent an average of 7.3 months in the program.
NURSERY DAILY SCHEDULE
6:00 AM Morning wake-up and count
8:00 AM Mothers are expected to be up, showered, dressed, breakfasted
8:00 - 9:30 AM Mothers prepare babies for the day (babies are bathed, changed, fed). Rooms are cleaned; assignments done.
9:30 - 11:15 AM Parenting Program (a combination of Mothers' groups; child development classes; maternal/child health workshops; arts and crafts for babies; community meetings and special outside speakers.)
11:30 AM Count
12:00 - 1:00 PM Lunch (mothers alternate going to lunch and baby-sitting while others go to mess hall).
1:00 - 3:45 PM Afternoon programs (school, CASAT)
4:00 PM Count
4:30 PM Dinner (again mothers alternate going to eat, and baby-sitting)
5:20 - 8:00 PM Mercy College begins evening classes (several Nursery mothers attend). Several extracurricular programs are available (domestic violence, Don on Violence, etc.) Mothers not attending these programs may partake in evening recreation outside if another mother baby-sits, or watch TV.)
8:15 PM Count
8:45 - 9:45 PM Several more extracurricular programs are available (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) for mothers
10:00 PM Lights out.