An Illinois prison has opened a special housing unit for pregnant and postpartum inmates. Offenders have their own rooms and can move about the wing freely. More comfortable bedding and large maternity pillows are permitted. The women have unlimited access to telephones, as well as video phones, to call their baby’s caretaker or other children, the Chicago Tribune reports. A refrigerator full of donated healthy snacks — including pickle juice frozen pops, a particular craving of a few of the women living in the wing — is available at all times. Classes and nutrition are tailored for mothers-to-be and their offspring, and pregnancy education classes are mandatory.
The new wing at the Logan prison is part of a larger shift in the treatment of pregnant women in jails and prisons across Illinois as well as nationwide, a recognition of the impact incarceration can have on parenthood as well as the next generation. The Illinois Department of Corrections in 2007 launched its “Moms and Babies” program at Decatur Correctional Center, which allows some offenders to keep their infants in a prison nursery after giving birth. In 1999, Illinois became the first state to ban shackling incarcerated women during labor and delivery, and many other states have passed anti-shackling laws since then. Logan allows one designated “birthing support person” — often the father of the baby or a relative of the inmate — to attend labor and birth. Eleven inmates were housed in the pregnancy wing on a recent weekday, out of a total population of 1,600. Pregnant offenders are first screened for placement on the wing. There can be no high aggression levels, no history of sexual crimes or crimes against children, and no one can be so severely mentally ill that they might threaten the safety of others.