Newborn children could be raised for up to 18 months within Missouri’s prison system for women. The Missouri House of Representatives has given preliminary approval to a bill that would create a prison nursery program.
Representatives Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, and Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, are leading the effort. They want to let eligible state prisoners raise their newborns during those first critical months of life if the mothers want to and if the other parent does not fight for custody. Eligible offenders would include those who exhibit good behavior in prison and are nearing the end of their release.
DeGroot says the prison nursery program, with an estimated cost of $1 million, is the right thing to do. He cites another state with a similar effort that has experienced a drop in the recidivism rate – the rate at which prisoners are getting out of prisoners and then returning for another crime or crimes.
“I thought oh my gosh, I do not expand government,” says DeGroot. “Then I started thinking, ‘Man if people who go through this program don’t come back, this program is going to pay for itself time and time and time again.’”
Representative Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis, supports the legislation and says it is near and dear to her heart.
“The lady that I call my mother is actually my cousin. And my biological mother who I have not met yet, she conceived me in prison. It’s something that I’ve never told anybody,” says Collins. “My biological mother did not have that ability to spend that time with me.”
Representative Robert Sauls, D-Independence, also supports the legislation.
“It’s a good feel good bill,” he says. “Oftentimes in criminal justice, well let’s just say you get to see a lot of bad things and this is one of those things that I think the body could do, should do, in order to just do what is the right thing.”
Missouri has two women’s prisons – one in eastern Missouri’s Vandalia and another in northwest Missouri’s Chillicothe. According to the state Department of Corrections, 31 Missouri prisoners gave birth in 2020, compared to 49 the previous year and 68 in 2018.
One more vote of support would send the bill to the Senate.
To view House Bill 1897, click here.
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