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Facts and Impact

  • Prison Nursery Statistics
    1. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18
    2. Children of incarcerated mothers are found to experience more risk factors, such as parental substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, and changes in caregiving, than either children of incarcerated fathers or children without incarcerated parents
    3. Overall, children of incarcerated mothers, when separated, lack attachment, consistency of care, financial stability in their caregiver’s home, and contact with their incarcerated mother.
    4. Approximately 2,000 children are born to incarcerated women each year and are separated from their mothers soon thereafter. Since most children do not participate in prison nurseries, the average child will spend no more than four days with their inmate-mother in the hospital before the mother must return to prison without the child. As a result, children who are separated from their parents do not develop secure attachments to their caretakers within the first-year of life. The consequences of such separation are expansive, and can result in diminished social, emotional, and intellectual growth later in life.
    5. 2014 study found children who participated in prison nurseries experienced far better mental health outcomes than those children who were separated from their mothers during their early developmental stages. In fact, the separated children experienced “significantly worse” ratings for anxiety and depression, even after controlling for other risk factors in the separated child’s caregiving environment. Moreover, the longer children spent in prison nurseries, the more secure the children’s emotional attachments became, even when accounting for the mother’s level of attachment.
    6. Infancy is a crucial time for brain development. It is vital that babies and their parents are supported during this time to promote attachment. Without a good initial bond, children are less likely to grow up to become happy, independent and resilient adults.
    7. The most important stage for brain development is the beginning of life, starting in the womb and then the first year of life. By the age of three, a child’s brain has reached almost 90% of its adult size.[2]
    8. They undergo huge brain development, growth and neuron pruning in the first two years of life.
    9. Depriving infants of a loving family environment causes lasting damage to their emotional well-being, their intelligence and their capacity to develop fully
    10. Research shows that these programs benefit mothers and children.
      • When adequate resources are available for prison nursery programs, women who participate show lower rates of recidivism, and their children show no adverse effects as a result of their participation.
      • By keeping mothers and infants together, these programs prevent foster care placement and allow for the formation of maternal/child bonds during a critical period of infant development.
    11. Women who experienced more child contact found less likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety (Ward, 2018)
    12. Women who maintained contact with children showed less stress than mother who had no contact; Parenting Stress Index for Incarcerated Women (PSIIW) scale (Ward, 2018)
    13. For 50% of incarcerated mothers, separation directly after birth becomes a permanent, life-long separation (Ward, 2018)
    14. Children with incarcerated mother 6x more likely to go to jail (Ward, 2018)
    15. Evidence suggests such programs increase mother–child attachment, improve parenting efficacy, and reduce participant recidivism.
    16. The literature on prison nurseries cites three primary benefits of the programs: (a) possible increased attachment between mother and baby; (b) improved parenting efficacy; and (c) reduced recidivism among mothers. Generally, studies of prison nursery outcomes report increased attachment and bonding between incarcerated mothers and their children.


    Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported.

    2 – 5.

    6 – 9. The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. Robert Winstona and Rebecca Chicotb. Science and Society, Imperial College, London, UK; The Essential Parent Company, Cambridge, UK (attached)

    10. Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment. A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives May 2009

    11 – 14. THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PRISON NURSERY PROGRAMS IN REDUCING RECIDIVISM: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW, Audrie Marie Ward, B.A., University of Oklahoma, 2015 (attached)

    15 – 16. Prison nurseries: Experiences of incarcerated women during pregnancy, Stephanie Fritz and Kevin Whiteacre, 2016 (attached)

  • Early Bonding Impact on Mental Health Resilience
  • Reducing Recidivism: A Systematic Review
  • Experiences of incarcerated women during pregnancy

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