A new law, signed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in May, will make the state the first in the country to stop separating women in jail and prisons from their newborns, reports the Washington Post. Minnesota’s program stipulates that mother and child will be placed in a community-based program for up to a year. The details of those programs is still being ironed out. Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that there are no other states close to passing similar legislation on her radar, but she is hopeful that seeing the Minnesota program roll out will inspire lawmakers in other jurisdictions. In Minnesota, roughly 20 women give birth while incarcerated annually. Nursing for Women’s Health, a medical journal, reported that nationally, that number is estimated to be around 1,400. The journal also found that between 6 and 10 percent of women are pregnant when they enter jail or prison.
Of the 278 pregnant women who were criminally convicted in Minnesota between 2013 and 2020, 77 percent were for technical violations of their parole or probation, such as failing a drug test or missing an appointment with their supervising officer, and 88 percent had nonviolent offenses, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Over half of these women would be released within six months of giving birth. Lawmakers said they weighed statistics like these while considering the rationale for incarcerating these women and removing their babies. Separation can be damaging to both mother and child, maternal health experts say. And for any mother, the days and months after giving birth can be extremely challenging physically and emotionally, regardless of the setting. Mental illness is more prevalent in the population of women behind bars, making them more vulnerable to postpartum depression.