Empty Cribs in Prison Nurseries

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From The Nation Institute:

When Cassidy Green learned that she was pregnant, she and her husband didn’t discuss cribs, co-sleeping, or even diapers. Instead, they worried about more basic and immediate challenges, like whether Green would be able to spend more than a few days with her baby. Green was in prison, 9 years into a 15-year prison sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York’s maximum-security women’s prison. She had gotten pregnant on a recent visit through the prison’s Family Reunion Program, which allows incarcerated people to spend a night or two with their family members in a trailer with a more home-like setting than a prison visiting room.

The couple agreed that Green’s husband, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, would have a hard time caring for a newborn by himself. Plus, Green wanted to breastfeed her baby. They decided that she would keep the child with her for the first year.

This was only an option because Bedford has a 27-bed prison nursery that allows mothers and their babies to stay together for the first 12 months, or up to 18 months if the mother will be paroled by then. When Green applied, it was 2012 and the nursery wasn’t full. She was in one of the prison’s honor units, and immediately filled out the two-page application form and began dreaming of that first year of bonding. Her baby, due in January, would still be too young to notice much by Mother’s Day, in May, but they could at least spend the day together. By Thanksgiving, the baby would be able to eat whatever feast she and the other women could whip up from the canned food the prison provided. By Christmas, she would be old enough to tear open her presents.

Three months later, when she was just beginning to show, Green learned that she had been rejected from the nursery program. She quickly appealed, writing a letter to the prison superintendent. This time the response came within 24 hours.

The six-line memo ended: “Based on your offense, you are not eligible for Nursery placement.” Those 11 words shattered Green’s hopes for her daughter. “I was downright pissed off,” she told Jezebel.

It didn’t matter that Green had spent the past five years at Bedford out of trouble, or that her last rule violation, in 2007, was for receiving a back rub in the prison yard. (Incarcerated people are not allowed to touch each other.) In 2009, Green had married a man she’d known since she was a teenager and had been approved to participate in the Family Reunion Program—a privilege she would not have been granted had she been considered a troublemaker. To qualify for the program, the person must be participating in her or his required prison programs and not have recently violated prison rules. In other words, the Family Reunion Program, also known as a trailer visit, is only for those with exemplary prison records.

Read the full article by Victoria Law.