Born Behind Bars: Program allows babies in prison

Rules allow them to stay with their moms up 36 months, but most of the inmates are released by then.

Prison may be one of the last places you would expect to find babies, but in Central Ohio, some female inmates are now allowed to keep their children with them.

Janisha Meredith of Cleveland is among the lucky ones.

Last summer, drug charges landed her at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Pregnant at the time, she qualified for a unique program now offered in fewer than 10 states nationwide.

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It allows women who enter pregnant to keep their children once they give birth, provided they do not have violent offenses or a history with child services.

Children born outside of prison are not permitted.

“These months are very important and your child needs that bonding time and that comfort that only a mother can give,” said Meredith, who learned to crochet in prison. “It’s very important.”

The moms have cribs in their rooms which are connected to a nursery which is kept separate from the general population. Meals are the only times moms and babies are apart.

“They give you diapers, wipes, hygiene products for your child,” Meredith said. There is also a supply room full of everything from baby clothes to monitors to humidifiers.

Money for the program comes from a federal grant. Since 2001, more than 300 children have gone through it.

Rules allow them to stay with their moms up 36 months, but most of the inmates are released by then.

Next month Meredith and her son Javon, who is just shy of three months, will leave. Like every family, they will be given a free car seat and Pack ‘n Play.

“When I leave this facility, I know that I’m going to keep doing the right things I have to do for myself and my children,” she said.

At least, that is the hope.

Caseworkers say a handful of women have returned to prison since giving birth and getting out, but add, it has been such a success that a new nursery will be built next year.