Minnesota becomes first state to stop separating mothers in prison from their newborn babies

A row of prison cells with the doors closed
A new law will make Minnesota the first state in the country to stop separating mothers in prison from their newborn babies.
Jenn Vargas via Flickr

A new law makes Minnesota the first state in the country to stop separating mothers in prison from their newborn babies. The Healthy Start Act was signed by Gov. Tim Walz in May; it allows incarcerated mothers and their babies to stay together in a community-based program for up to a year after birth. 

About 280 pregnant women in Minnesota were sentenced to serve time in prison between 2013 and 2020. Before this law, women who give birth while incarcerated are separated from their newborns after two or three days in the hospital. 

Experts say that allowing mothers to stay with their children will improve the health of both the mother and baby and could help reduce recidivism rates.

Host Angela Davis explored the new law and how incarceration can affect entire families. We heard from a professor who studies the health of incarcerated parents and their children, doulas who work with incarcerated mothers and a woman who was born to an incarcerated mother.

Guests:

  • Raelene Baker is the Program Director for the Minnesota Prison Doula Project. 

  • Carolyn Sufrin is a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the project director of Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People.

  • Deborah Jiang-Stein is the founder of the UnPrison Project, which works with women and girls who are in prison. She is also the author of the memoir “Prison Baby.” 

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