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Women Prisoners Get a Chance to Spend Some Time With Their Babies : Child care: Federal inmates transfer to residential centers to give birth. The program then allows time for emotional bonding.

January 08, 1995|JENNIFER BUNDY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

HILLSBORO, W.Va. — Tiawana Brown thinks her infant daughter is happier and more likely to remember her because they spent time together in prison.

Brown, 23, of Charlotte, N.C., is serving a 33-month sentence at the federal women's prison in nearby Alderson for conspiracy to commit student loan fraud.

She and her daughter, Tijema, participated in a recently expanded federal Bureau of Prisons program called Mothers With Infants Together, which allows time for trusted federal inmate mothers to bond with their babies.

"Any time, even if it's only a second, I get to stay with my children is worth it," Brown says.

Brown says of her 2-year-old daughter, "Antoinette knows who her mother is, and I want Tijema to be in the same situation."

Under the program, mothers-to-be transfer from a prison to centers in residential areas two months before their due date and stay there at least three months after the baby is born.

After they leave the centers, some women go to other halfway houses, some are released because they have served their time and others go back to prison, leaving their babies in the care of relatives, friends or state temporary placement agencies.

Pregnant inmates who don't qualify for the program are separated from their babies when they return to prison two or three days after giving birth, says Dan Dunne, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons.

The program began in the early 1980s in Ft. Worth, Tex., and San Jose, Calif., and has expanded to three other sites.

The Behavioral Systems Southwest program in Phoenix opened in 1993. The Hartford House in Hartford, Conn., and The Greenbrier Birthing Center accepted their first inmates in July.

Brown thought she was not going to be able to participate because Tijema was born June 9, before the Greenbrier Birthing Center opened.

Brown returned to Alderson after giving birth at Allegheny Regional General Hospital in Lowmoor, Va., and Tijema lived with Brown's mother and Antoinette in Charlotte.

The Bureau of Prisons allowed Brown to move to the birthing center with Tijema on July 27.

"The first three months of the baby's life is absolutely the most important," says Donna Bailey, assistant director of corrections for the Volunteers of America, which runs the center in Ft. Worth.

"The holding of the baby and the cuddling, it helps in their development."

Some babies born in Texas have been seriously ill, and their mothers' presence made the difference between life and death, Bailey says.

"We enhance what the mothers know, then teach them stuff they didn't know. A lot of times they've never properly given a baby a bath, or they don't know how to spend quality time with their children."

The women take classes in parenting, self-image, prenatal and postnatal care, breast-feeding and Lamaze. After giving birth, they take a class to help them prepare to separate from the child.

Some of the centers are run by nonprofit organizations, while others are operated by for-profit corporations. All bid for the federal contracts.

The Greenbrier Birthing Center charges $74 a day. Other centers charge as little as $51 a day. It costs $55 a day to house an inmate in a federal prison, Dunne says.

Unlike the other four centers, which are located in large metropolitan areas, the Greenbrier center is in a remote valley, four miles on a winding, single-lane road from Hillsboro, a rural community about 80 miles east of Charleston.

The one-story, white structure has a large recreation room, a small sun room and about 20 bedrooms that face each other along a hallway. The back rooms open onto a large cornfield. There are no security walls or fences.

Each room is furnished with a bed, dresser, desk and bassinet. Inmates can use a laundry room or a kitchen. Their meals come from the prison next door.

Some women's families send them baby clothes and carriers. Other baby items are donated.

In 1993, 110 federal prisoners had babies.

Although almost 7,000 of the 92,270 federal prisoners are women, "There's never enough programs for female offenders. Women have special needs," Bailey says.

Tonya, an Indiana woman at the center in Ft. Worth, says, "If it wasn't for this program, I wouldn't have even known this baby."

Tonya would not give her last name, her hometown or say what crime she had been convicted of. She is serving a 27-month sentence.

Tonya, who gave birth to a girl June 29, also has a 14-year-old son.

"I think I've learned a lot more having my baby here than I did having my son. I was only 16 when I had him," Tonya says.

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