study of prison nursery and community corrections programs

In Resistance Behind Bars, I cover incarcerated mothers' acts of individual resistance and collective organizing around access to their children. Recently, I learned that mothers imprisoned in Argentina, a country which allows women to choose to keep their babies and small children with them in the prison, have also acted to protest the conditions facing them and their children behind bars. In 2003, 300 prisoners and 98 of their family members took over portions of the women's prison in Buenos Aires for 9 hours. The authorities agreed to their demands for an on-site pediatrician 24 hours a day, a mother's right to accompany her child to outside hospitals for treatment, better nutrition, access to an outdoor patio and lack of retaliation or punishment for the protest.


In Argentina, incarcerated mothers are allowed to keep their young children with them for the first two to four years. In the U.S., despite soaring increases in the number of women behind bars, only 9 states have recognize the importance of the mother-baby bond and have or are developing prison nursery programs.

The Women's Prison Association conducted a study of prison nursery programs and mother-baby community corrections programs, finding:

Many women parenting their infants in prison nurseries could be doing so in the community instead, the report finds.   The profile of women in prison nurseries is nearly identical to that of participants in community-based programs.  Women in both types of programs are serving relatively short sentences for non-violent offenses, and will continue primary caretaking responsibility for their child(ren) upon release.   Further, most women in prison nursery programs present little risk to public safety.

Read the full report (as a pdf) here