Fran DeWine, wife of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, speaks with Mya Stump, right, an inmate at the Ohio Reformatory for Women participating in the prison’s nursery program. Through the program, Stump is able to maintain custody of and raise her daughter, Oaklee, who was born while Stump was incarcerated.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Kayleen Petrovia)
The Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) recently opened new nurseries for a program that allows pregnant, incarcerated women to raise their children.
On Thursday, ORW unveiled two new nursery buildings, called the Hope House and the Wheeler Building, named after former warden Martha Wheeler.
ORW Warden Teri Baldauf said the program provides inmates with a future to look forward to and reduces recidivism.
“We need to provide hope to these women and children so they can be successful in the community,” she said.
The afternoon’s ribbon cutting ceremony highlighted the Hope House, a brand-new building with the capacity to house 26 women and their children. The building features a nursery area, a breastfeeding room, a full kitchen and rooms for inmates, each with two beds and a crib at the foot of each.
Three women and their children are currently living in the Hope House, along with two live-in nannies.
The Achieving Baby Care Success (ABC’S) Program allows pregnant inmates to maintain custody of their children after they are born. It was established by federal funding in June 2001 as Ohio’s only nursery program within an institution.
Eligible mothers are screened for the program and must be serving a short-term sentence for a non-violent crime.
Through the program, mothers live with and raise their children with the help of hands-on parenting instruction. Each participant also has a personalized treatment plan to prepare her and her child for life after they leave ORW.
Three formerly incarcerated women who participated in the nursery program were at the event with their children to share their success stories.
One of these mothers, Courtney Kuiper, said the nursery “had the hugest impact” on her life. She said she was serving a two-year sentence that caused her to lose custody of her older child. While she was at ORW, she gave birth to her second child and raised her throughout the duration of her sentence.
Kuiper said she now has custody of both of her children, earned her general management license and currently manages a hotel.
“I’m just so happy to be here and say I actually made it… if it wasn’t for the nursery, it wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Another former inmate, Shelby Nelson, held her infant daughter while she shared a similar sentiment.
“The nursery definitely helped me to be the mother I knew I could be, but before prison didn’t have the potential to be.
“The only downfall was: being around my kid for two years, now she doesn’t leave me alone,” she said with a laugh.
Given the success of the program, Governor Mike DeWine has incorporated funding for the new buildings and staffing the Hope House into the state’s executive budget.
The new facilities are completely separate buildings that are isolated from the intake area to ensure the mothers and their children are in a safe environment.
Fran DeWine, Gov. DeWine’s wife, has assisted with the establishment of the new nurseries. She said she believes the program is an example of “women supporting women” that empowers inmates to better themselves.
“Every mom wants to be a better mom and I think that about the mothers here, too,” she said. “This is a place for new and healthy beginnings.”
Aside from helping women who participate in the program, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith said the nursery has “softened” the culture of the prison.
She said it gives the other inmates something to be excited about and support each other in, creating unity within the prison.
Beyond that, Chambers-Smith said the program has the potential to positively change the path of children’s lives.
“To be quite frank, we all know people who have parents that are incarcerated are more likely to be incarcerated themselves, and one thing we’re about here is breaking that cycle.”
Although raising a child while in prison is different than life after an inmate’s release, Baldauf said the nursery program helps to build strong families that are prepared for it.
“This is giving them the ultimate opportunity to engage in family,” she said.
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