Pregnant and Parenting from Jail: Part 1

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Originally posted on April 11, 2018

Maternity Care Coalition (MCC) is known for the MOMobile. It’s been around for almost thirty years and has supported many communities across Southeastern Pennsylvania. In 2006, MCC developed a partnership with The Philadelphia Department of Prisons to provide our MOMobile services to pregnant women and moms with children under three in Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF). This is a unique program in that it is one of the few programs specifically focused on pregnant women and new mothers based inside a correctional institution in the entire Country.- Additionally, this program not only serves moms while they are there, but also continues to provide services after reentry and supports caregivers outside of the facility.

Marjie Mogul, Senior Director of Research at MCC and a member of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition works with the MOMobile at Riverside program to assist in evaluating and disseminating program outcomes. Marjie has adapted MCC’s Fit Beginnings health and wellness program to be implemented in the facility thanks to a grant from the Edna G. Kynett Memorial Foundation and is working to turn other studies into programs that can serve as “best practices” in the field. Marjie will be sharing all of the great work being done in this program with a series of blog posts over the next several months. Read below for the first in the Pregnant and Parenting from Jail series.

Two Generations At-Risk
Despite recent efforts to reform the criminal justice system, one population that’s received little attention is the dramatic rise in women, specifically pregnant and parenting women, in local county jails.  Since 1970, the number of women in jail nationwide has increased 14-fold and now accounts for approximately half of all women behind bars in the United States. Nearly 80% are mothers (according to the Vera Institute of Justice). Mothers in jail deserve the national spotlight because they are at the intersection of two critically important national trends:  the explosion of opioid use disorder and the growing evidence of the critical importance of early childhood in impacting the long-term success—or failure—of children.

Why is this important?
The majority of incarcerated women are mothers of minor children. Unlike state prisons, county jails are generally short-stay (under 24 months) so women are likely to be released and reunited with their children.  Most of these women are accused of misdemeanor crimes, specifically drug possession, and suffer from trauma, physical and mental health issues, substance abuse and unstable housing. Many jails in Southeast Pennsylvania are experiencing a disturbing increase in pregnant women, many of whom are giving birth behind bars and will be reunited with their baby upon release. The opioid epidemic has had a particularly significant impact on these women and their children: In Pennsylvania, there has been a 250% increase in substance exposed infant hospital stays since 2000, resulting in an additional 20 million dollars in unintended Medicaid costs for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

How one initiative is addressing this:
Collaborations between service providers, Advocates, researchers and corrections officials are identifying promising practices to address the needs of mothers behind bars. One such program is Maternity Care Coalition’s MOMobile at Riverside in RCF, Philadelphia’s county jail for women. A long-term partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, the comprehensive approach includes research, evaluation and advocacy. The program helps prepare women for childbirth and provides labor and delivery support (Doulas), assists mothers in staying connected with their children, provides support to the baby and children’s’ caregiver(s) and provides case-management support to women during re-entry into the community after they are released. The program also provides enhanced nutrition and physical activity education and support and runs a lactation program where mothers can pump breastmilk to be delivered to the baby’s caregiver by the MOMobile staff.

Amelia was pregnant when she ended up in RCF and was connected to the MOMobile program. Her MOMobile Advocate helped her set some attainable health goals for herself to ensure a healthy pregnancy. She was advised on how to make healthier food choices from the Commissary (i.e. the prison food service), kept a food log and a physical activity log, measuring her steps with a pedometer provided by the MOMobile program. Amelia met all of her goals and became a “wellness champion” on her unit. She was able to maintain a healthy weight throughout her pregnancy and influenced and encouraged other women to strive towards making healthier choices for themselves.

What might help the success of mothers and children in jail? Why is now the time to act?
Providing mothers with education and support to successfully parent is critical to the future cognitive, social and emotional development of children. Research shows that bonding and positive mother-infant interaction is an important contributor to the lifelong success of children, particularly from pregnancy through age 3, when the young brain is so actively developing. Preparing women for re-entry throughout their incarceration and providing support upon release are critical in preventing recidivism and ensuring successful outcomes for them and their children.

Shining the spotlight on mothers in jail impacts both childbearing women and the future success of their children. In future posts, we will address: labor, delivery and breastfeeding in jail; alternatives to incarceration for pregnant and parenting women, and the need for more research and advocacy in this field.

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Dr. Marjie Mogul is the Senior Director of Research. Her career has focused on effective strategies improving the health and well-being of pregnant women and parenting families. She believes providing young children with strong foundations is the key to our future. Marjie’s expertise is research and advocacy with women in the criminal justice system. She has presented at national conferences and participates in a working group of national thought leaders. Her proudest work accomplishment was when the New York Times printed her reply to their editorial, “Women Behind Bars” and she was subsequently invited to The White House Convening on Women and the Criminal Justice System. She received her PhD in Social Work and Social Research from Bryn Mawr College, a Master’s degree in Business from Pennsylvania State University, and an undergraduate degree in Economics from The George Washington University. An ideal weekend day: trail running with her pure-bred shelter mutts and husband, then dark roast coffee on the deck.