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Prison nursery program one step closer to becoming a reality

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that would create a nursery for incarcerated mothers.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, said this bill does exactly what every lawmaker comes to the Capitol intending to do: It helps Missouri’s kids.

Through this program, women who give birth while incarcerated would have the chance to stay with their newborns in the prison for up to 18 months. A wing in a female Department of Corrections facility would be converted into a nursery for the mothers and their infants.

Currently, women who give birth while imprisoned in Missouri continue to serve their sentences after delivery, and their infants are sent to live with family or legal guardians.

Prison nurseries have been established in nine states. Studies have shown these programs have both long- and short-term benefits for the child and mother and reduce recidivism.

DeGroot emphasized that the program is voluntary and a privilege for incarcerated participants. He pointed to the long-term positive impacts a program like this can have on both mom and baby.

The Correctional Center Nursery Program would include education, counseling, and parenting classes for the imprisoned mothers.

“What we want to do is arm that mother so when she gets out, she’s able to take care of herself, her family, her baby,” DeGroot said.

Lawmakers from both parties praised the bill, HB1897, and thanked the sponsor for bringing it forward. Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said this bill is what a “civilized society ought to be doing.”

Many lawmakers commented on the broad support of the bill in a time of fierce partisanship.

Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, called the bipartisanship refreshing and said the discussion on the bill refueled her.

“We have shown by this bill that we have the capacity as a body to rally around an issue that is important to all of us,” Young said.

Another vote is needed to send the bill to the Senate.

Jana Rose Schleis is a M.A. student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is studying investigative journalism and government reporting.