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Missouri Legislature approves prison nursery program, now awaits Governor's signature

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 are put into foster care.

A bill awaiting Gov. Mike Parson's signature attempts to change that. Missouri could become the tenth state to allow pregnant incarcerated women to keep their baby with them in prison. Women who enter prison while pregnant in Missouri now could gain the ability to live with their baby in the facility for 18 months.

In a bipartisan move on the last day of session, the Missouri legislature voted to implement a prison nursery program. Studies show prison nurseries have positive mental and physical health outcomes for both mothers and babies. Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, said this is the kind of legislation that makes a difference for Missourians.

“This is why I'm here. This is why you guys are all here. We're doing good. For families, for babies, for moms, for us,” DeGroot said.

The state legislature approved a Department of Corrections prison nursery program with bipartisan support, including from Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette.

“This is just the perfect example of something that, it's truly just nonpartisan. It's good public policy that will make the difference in the lives of real people.”

Studies show prison nursery programs in other states, along with positive health outcomes, have dramatically reduced the likelihood that the incarcerated mother reoffends.

If Gov. Mike Parson signs the bill into law, the Department of Corrections is authorized to convert a wing in a female prison into a nursery for nonviolent inmates.

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