Pregnant with her fourth child and facing a year in prison for dealing methamphetamine, Amanda Long was ready to change her behavior. Who could she turn to for advice about her pregnancy while she was behind bars? The Seattle Times says she turned to a resource that pregnant women have relied on for centuries – doulas. The corrections center, which has gained national recognition for its programs for pregnant inmates, is believed to be the only prison in the U.S. to offer expectant mothers and those who already have given birth access to trained doulas.
The Residential Parenting Program allows inmates serving terms of no more than three years and who give birth while incarcerated to keep their children with them until the end of their sentence or until the child is 2-½ years old, whichever comes sooner. Experts believe the time together allows babies to bond with their mothers and leads to lower recidivism rates among inmates. The volunteer doulas’ goal is simple: to ease inmates’ fears and concerns about childbirth and child rearing under circumstances that are far from normal. The doulas, members of a group called The Birth Attendants, work with the entire prison population as well as the prison’s Residential Parenting Program, which helps pregnant inmates and new mothers maneuver their way through childbirth and beyond. “We’re not there to pass judgment,” but to educate, said doula Zimryah Barnes. “We don’t deny anybody support who requests it.”