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The Light Inside: Giving Birth Behind Bars


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Incarcerated mother in Decatur Prison’s Nursery Program and Reunification Unit. Photo courtesy of Shannon Heffernan

What’s it like to give birth or raise an infant, inside the walls of a prison? Or even worse, have to give up your child the day it’s born? On this edition, a look at pregnancy, and motherhood, inside Americas jails and prisons. What does the huge number of incarcerated women in prison foretell for the next generation of America’s kids?

Special Thanks to segment producers: intern Shaunnah Ray, and freelancer Shannon Heffernan. Heffernan’s Time on the Outside project is produced with support from the Soros Justice Media Fellowships Program of the Open Society Institute. Thanks also to Sarah Olson for voices from her 2007 Making Contact edition, Lockdown on Life: Stories from Women Behind Bars.


Michelle Alexander, Author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcerationin the Age of Colorblindness; Hukee, Prison Doula Project Birth Attendant ProgramCoordinator;  Simon Conrad, Marin Fahey, Sarelle Caicedo, Doulas; Teresa Correll &Genisis, Women who gave Birth at the Washington Correctional Center For Women; Casey & AJ, Mothers at Decatur Prison; Susan Creek, Decatur Prison Warden



A Visit to a Prison Nursery
What happens when a women gives birth behind bars? Usually those babies are sent home with family members or put into foster care. But some prisons are trying an alternative: prison nurseries. Nine states currently have prison nurseries. Reporter Shannon Heffernan spent six months visiting one nursery in Decatur, Illinois, to find out how the experiment in keeping families together, at least for the infancy stage, is working.

Prison Doulas-Supporting Pregnant Women Behind Bars
For most women, the way their pregnancy, labor, and recuperation is handled by the correctional system has a lot to be desired. But there are some advocates for pregnant prisoners on the outside, working hard to provide access to those behind bars. Making Contact’s production intern Shaunnah Ray brings us this story about The Birth Attendants-Prison Doula Project, who offer their services at the Washington Correctional Center For Women in Olympia Washington.


For more information:

The Rebecca Project for Human Rights

Legal Services for Prisoners With Children

The Center For Young Women’s Development

National Advocates For Pregnant Women

The Birth Attendants Prison Doula Project

Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance

Illinois Department of Corrections

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children

Washington Corrections Center for Women


Articles, Blogs, Reports and Videos:
For more photos of the nursery at Decatur prison
Pregnant Behind Bars: The Prison Doula Project

Author: Radio Project

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