By: Alyssa Wilson
In Minnesota, a new law called the Healthy Start Act allows pregnant women incarcerated in the state’s prisons to serve time with their newborns.
According to NBC News, there is no standard policy for what happens when a woman gives birth while incarcerated. A woman would typically give birth at a hospital and then have to return to prison days later while their child is sent to live with a relative. Now, the new Minnesota law is combatting the negative impacts that separation has on the children and their mothers.
The Healthy Start Act allows pregnant women who are incarcerated to be with or in contact with their newborns for up to one year after giving birth. Eight states have prison nurseries that allow mothers to stay with their newborns for up to three years after birth, but this new law is the first to offer conditional release as an option.
It gives mothers the possibility of serving their sentences in alternatives like halfway houses and addiction rehabilitation facilities to give them the time and space to bond with their children. Women would need to apply for conditional release, which would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
According to the Sentencing Project, there has been a spike in female incarceration in the last quarter-century. The agency reported that between 1980 and 2019, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%. Additionally, when it comes to women with children, more than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.
“We want to take a comprehensive approach. We want to place mothers according to their need— where they can receive parenting skills, prenatal care, postnatal care or mental health counseling,” said Paul Schnell, the commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Corrections. “We know the healthier the bond is between mother and child, the more likely these women will be successful.”
State Representative Jamie Becker-Finn, who is a member of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Nation, helped create the legislation and 35 women co-sponsored it. She said she created it in an effort to “end the multigenerational trauma” that incarceration causes.
The program highlights the benefits of having more women and women of color serving in legislative positions. Schnell and Rebecca Shlafer, the project’s research director, said the legislation came from about 10 years of work at the prison and more women working in state government made it a reality. Schnell said, “The act was carried and lifted by women legislators.”
If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.