Having a baby isn’t easy. But having a baby in prison is something that’s hard to even describe. For many incarcerated parents, it’s only a matter of hours from the moment they give birth in prison until their newborn is taken away. A new law, the Healthy Start Act, gives incarcerated parents in Minnesota the possibility of more time with their babies.
Back in May, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed the Healthy Start Act into law. Under the new law, the Minnesota Department of corrections can place pregnant or postpartum parents into forms of confinement other than prison. Examples include halfway houses, residential treatment facilities and more. These alternative custody arrangements give parents better access to treatment during their pregnancy. And they also give parents and newborns more time to bond after giving birth.
Having babies spend more time with their incarcerated parents helps everyone.
An article by Talk Poverty’s Lizzie Tribone shows how beneficial this time can be. She tells the story of one mom who left prison six and a half months after giving birth to her son. The last time they were together was when the mom gave birth, under the supervision of two prison guards, in a hospital near her prison. After just 48 hours, the mom was forced to hand her son over to another family. Six and a half months later, the baby didn’t know her at all. “[H]e does not like me,” the mom said. In reality, she recognized, “he did not know me.”
Before the Healthy Start Act, incarcerated parents had a maximum of 72 hours—just three days—with newborns. In other states, the time is even shorter. Tribone’s article quotes a comment by Alysia Santo wrote in an article for PBS Frontline: “[G]iving birth means saying goodbye.”
As Safia Khan, Director of Government and External Relations at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, recognizes, this is harmful for everyone. While “the separation period is often temporary and short,” she said, “it is hugely disruptive to bonding and hugely traumatizing for the mother and for the child.” The new Minnesota law allowing incarcerated parents to spend more time with their babies has a chance to help.