“There’s some clarity when forced to do a prison sentence and forced to be a parent,” says a Washington state prison official. What support, if any, the women receive outside of prison once they’re released is a big question.
The Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) an hour from Seattle is one of at least eight prisons in the U.S. that allows a small number of women who are pregnant and give birth while incarcerated to keep their newborns with them for a limited time, reports NPR. Officials say that because women make up the fastest growing segment of the prison population, prison nurseries provide a way for mothers serving time to nurture and maintain a strong bond with their children. There are more than one thousand women incarcerated at WCCW, 300 more than the prison’s capacity. Those considered minimum security risks live in green cottage-like buildings with far less of the concrete and razor wire that surrounds maximum and medium security buildings.
Mothers in the Residential Parenting Program (RPP) have keys to their rooms and travel the hallways carrying infants or pushing them in strollers. They can use a kitchen to prepare food for themselves and their child. Sonya Alley oversees the Residential Parenting Program. She says it gives women a tangible way to turn their lives around. “It gets them out of their addictive past and co-dependency on drugs, or alcohol or relationships,” she says. “It seems oxymoronic but there’s some clarity when forced to do a prison sentence and forced to be a parent. It starts to shift the way the women think about themselves, their environments and wanting the best for themselves and their child.” What support, if any, the women receive outside of prison once they’re released is a big question. Some critics say sentencing alternatives — like home confinement or GPS monitoring, which Washington State does offer, may serve women and children better than prison nurseries.