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Pregnant in Prison: MN Seeks to Improve Health of Inmates' Babies

PHOTO: Minnesota is looking to do more to help an especially vulnerable population of children and babies born to incarcerated mothers. Photo credit: Frank de Kleine/Flickr.
PHOTO: Minnesota is looking to do more to help an especially vulnerable population of children and babies born to incarcerated mothers. Photo credit: Frank de Kleine/Flickr.
May 11, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. - They are among the babies who face the biggest hurdles to healthy and successful lives, but more help may soon be on the way with added support for those Minnesota mothers giving birth behind bars. Last year Minnesota passed its first ever law that implemented standards of safety and care for incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women.

Jessica Anderson, legislative affairs director with Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, says this year lawmakers are being asked to expand that including a requirement of...

"An annual report to the legislature on the use of restraints on incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women," says Anderson. "It also requires the prevailing standard of care for pregnant women. So those were two of the policy highlights that were introduced this year."

Lawmakers are also being asked to make a one-time appropriation of $60,000 to the Department of Corrections to issue grants to pay for doula care for women who are pregnant and in county jails across the state.

Currently, doula care is offered free-of-charge for inmates at the Shakopee women's prison through the Minnesota Prison Doula Project. Project Director Erica Gerrity says pregnant inmates face unique challenges and the support and education make a huge difference on improving birth outcomes.

"Meaning are they born full-term? Are they born at a healthy birth weight? Because having a healthy birth outcome is really linked to all different types of life-long health: emotional health, behavioral health, physical health," says Garrity. "So we try to get women to understand what is happening in your pregnancy, inside your body, is crucial to the rest of your child's life."

More than 40,000 women and girls are arrested in Minnesota annually. Gerrity says about one fourth of them are pregnant or had given birth within the year.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN