Women’s prison could add nursery

A pilot program would establish a nursery center for mothers who give birth while incarcerated. The baby would stay with its mother at a special center for the first 36 months after the child's birth.


State News

February 20, 2024 - 3:36 PM

The Topeka Correctional Facility could house a nursery center if new legislation is approved. Photo by (Kansas Department of Corrections)

TOPEKA — The state’s only women’s prison could have a nursery center for mothers who give birth while incarcerated, if a proposed plan catches on.

The pilot plan would establish a correctional center nursery on the grounds of Topeka Correctional Facility, allowing inmates who qualify to live with their child for up to 36 months after the child’s birth.

“When baby needs to nurse, mom needs to nurse and vice versa,” said Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, who asked for the bill’s introduction. “It’s a natural rhythm. The crux of this is that baby needs mom, mom needs baby.”

O’Shea said of the 800 women who entered the Topeka Correctional Facility last year, 10 came in while pregnant. O’Shea described the short amount of time these mothers had with their children, often staying with them for 24 to 48 hours before being taken back to the correctional facility. 

O’Shea mentioned one case in which the mother was with her child for only 24 hours before the baby was taken to Pennsylvania with grandparents. She could only talk with her son over Zoom for months until her release date.  

“Like any other mom, she goes to the hospital, she gives birth, she spends two days there with her baby,” O’Shea said. “And then they part ways.”

To be eligible for the program, the person would have to give birth to a child after sentencing or while in custody; have 36 months or less remaining on their sentence and meet other criteria established by the state corrections officials. Any incarcerated mother with current or prior convictions of certain violent or dangerous crimes would be automatically disqualified. 

Prison nursery programs exist in fewer than a dozen states but have started to catch on as studies show they contribute to reduced recidivism rates. Missouri passed similar legislation into law in 2022. 

The idea was supported by Gloria Geither, deputy secretary of Facility Management for the Kansas Department of Corrections and the former warden of the Topeka Correctional Facility. 

Geither said KDOC backed the plan and would commit to building a new unit for the purpose, as well as increase staffing for the facility. 

KDOC estimated a cost of $2.7 million in fiscal year 2025 for designing, constructing and furnishing the nursery. The unit would include  individual rooms, a kitchenette for meal preparation, a common space for activities, and an outdoor playground, among other features. About 19 staff members would be needed to run the program.  

Abriona Markham, executive director of the Topeka Doula Project, an organization that supports incarcerated mothers through pregnancy and after delivery, said allowing mothers to be a part of their children’s lives helped reduce recidivism. 

“Every conversation reveals the same conclusion: These mothers need and want to be a part of their babies’ lives,” Markham said. 

January 5, 2022
June 25, 2021
January 25, 2021
May 11, 2020