Updated: Thursday, 03 Nov 2011, 9:54 AM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 02 Nov 2011, 7:16 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHI) - All pregnant prisoners in Indiana are sent to serve at the Indiana Women's prison which is the only state facility with the resources, birthing about 60 babies a year.
As you can imagine, all of those babies need a home. Some are shipped off to family members, the others to foster care. That's why the prison decided to find a way for some mothers to keep their babies while serving time.
Shanah Howell is one of 10 mothers allowed to keep her baby in the coveted Baby Dorm.
"There's been some negativity as far as babies shouldn't be in prison and that type of thing but if you could just see the faces on these mothers,” Betty Cunningham of the Indiana Women’s Prison said.
The prison said the babies are absolutely safe while living with the offenders.
"We're not going to have anyone with any violent crimes living over on that unit around those children,” Cunningham said.
Shanah and other moms are all in prison for non-violent crimes. Also, their sentences must be short; mom and baby must be released within 18 months.
One reason, they said, is babies have sharper memories after a year-and-a-half. The hope is they'll remember the love and bonding but not the prison itself.
Babies must stay within the Baby Dorm or out in their fenced-in play-area. The prison believes the program is life-changing for mom and baby.
"They can value themselves and their children first again, maybe she will take that to heart and take it back out and become that productive citizen,” Cunningham said.
The Baby Dorm does not receive any taxpayer money as the babies are fully supported by grant money and donations.
The prison not only provides for the parents but teaches them as well. Shanah must take parenting classes, it’s back-to-the basics of motherhood.
"[We can] allow this mother an opportunity to bond with this child, allow her to gain the education she needs to be a successful mother,” Cunningham said.
A successful mother may mean a real chance at a crime-free life.
On average 32 percent of Indiana female inmates return to prison within three years of their release.
But will a mother-baby bond keep women like Shanah from behind bars?
"Only a couple of them have been back and it was not for new charges it was violations of some sort,” Cunningham said.
The Baby Dorm started just three years ago, the prison said it's too early to have any solid statistics on the return rates for inmates.
They believe in a couple years they'll be able to track a real change because of the Baby Dorm.
All of the supplies from the baby dorm from clothes to diapers come from donations.
If you’d like to donate you can call the prison directly at (317) 244-3387.
Opinions that are derogatory, attack other users or are offensive in nature may be removed. WTHI is not responsible for the content posted in this comment section. We reserve the right to remove any offensive or off-topic remark or thread. To mark a comment for review by a moderator, click "Report Abuse."