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New law keeping incarcerated mothers with newborn babies for a year a 'game changer'

The law went into effect on August 1 in Minnesota.
MCF Shakopee

The living quarters at MCF-Shakopee.

Starting August 1st, a new law went into effect that will keep incarcerated pregnant mothers and their babies together for up to a year post-birth.

The bill called the Healthy Start Act is a first-of-its-kind policy being enacted at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee, the only women’s state prison in Minnesota.

The logistics for the program is still in the works, but the hope is once established the Commissioner of Corrections will place women who are pregnant or postpartum into halfway houses or rehab centers, supervise them in accordance with the current statute, and provide them treatment and programming for up to a year to allow for the child to be near their mother.

“I think having this ability to keep moms and babies together during that really important critical first year of the developmental period is a game-changer, said Safia Khan, Director of Government and External Relations for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Khan says this specific policy proposal is part of a larger group of changes the DOC has been hoping to make incarnation more sensitive to the needs of mothers and children.

“We have made changes such as tweaking our visitation process,” she said. “So that we can fast track applications for visitations for those little babies, who are visiting their moms, who are in prison.”

Last year, they instituted a lactation policy, and the state in 2014, passed an anti-shackling of pregnant women legislation.

Prior to the new legislation, women carried out their pregnancy terms in prison, gave birth, and returned to prison two to three days after. Data from the DOC shows between 2013 and 2020, 278 pregnant women were sentenced to prison in Minnesota. 

A majority of those women who gave birth while incarnated reached their release date within six months of giving birth.

“This is going to work for a lot of the people we see in our system. Those that might have lengthy sentences, for example, this approach might not work,” Khan said. “We don’t want a situation where a baby is only bonding with someone for a period of a year and then not having that same connection with them for up to four years, but as numbers show us that is rare.”

“Our mission here at the DOC is transforming lives for a safer Minnesota,” she added. "We want to make sure that absolutely accountability should exist and that accountability can be served by making sure people are receiving the treatment, the programming, and the care that they need to be the best parent that they can be.”

The DOC is currently requesting funding from the legislature to make this work.

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