An innovative lactation program encourages incarcerated new moms to maintain their breast milk supply, reinforcing maternal bonds and providing health benefits to their newborns.
Jackson is one of six mothers at Riverside who are currently participating in the lactation program, one of the first of its kind inside an American jail. Women who give birth just before or during their time here are given access to breastfeeding education and the facilities of the lactation room, plus additional hand pumps and milk storage bags to keep within their cells. Case managers from a local nonprofit transport the mothers’ milk directly to their babies on the outside, returning to the jail with pictures and updates.
While a woman’s right to pump her breast milk is legally protected in the United States, the privilege doesn’t extend to incarcerated moms. Unlike men, the majority of whom are incarcerated in state and federal prisons, the majority of women in custody in the U.S. are locked up in local or county jails. And the majority of these women have yet to be convicted of a crime. Most are being held in custody pre-trial because they can’t afford to post bail, or they’re waiting on overburdened criminal courts to try their case. (Of those women already convicted, most are serving time for misdemeanors or lesser offenses.) On any given day, 70 percent of all people in American jails haven’t been convicted of a crime. In Philadelphia, the duration of pre-trial stays have been considerably longer than in most big-city jurisdictions; more than a quarter of pre-trial detainees stay in jail for a month or longer.
One month (or less) spent in lockup is plenty of time to lose a job, to get evicted, or in the case of a nursing mother, to lose the ability to produce and provide breast milk for a newborn — a loss that carries potential health consequences for both the child and the mom. Those consequences are exacerbated by the fact that people in jail make even less money than those imprisoned in state or federal facilities. Given that the cost of infant formula can run upwards of $1,500 per year, the most at-risk mothers — and their children — are also being economically penalized by revoking their right to pump. Unless they happen to be sent to a jail such as Riverside.
The lactation program at Riverside is one of a handful of similar restorative programs happening for mothers inside U.S. correctional centers, although no official census exists for these programs. Tracking by the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy organization, suggests there are more than 10 but fewer than 20 lactation programs in jails across the nation which allow moms in custody to pump for their kids. While prison nurseriesexist in nine U.S. states — permitting women who’ve given birth on the inside a chance to effectively live with their babies behind bars for a finite period of time — and mothering from jail is a common sight around the world, the unique plight of jailed mothers is less popularly known, despite the fact that the population of women in jails has grown more than 1,000 percent since 1978, according to data by the Prison Policy Initiative.
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