What are the Options for Pregnant Women in Prison?
The prospect of giving birth in prison is a scary one. No matter whether you are currently pregnant in jail or will soon be entering a correctional facility, deciding what to do about your pregnancy in prison is a complicated and emotional decision.
Always remember that you do have options.
You will always have the right to make the best decision for you and your baby. Just because you are incarcerated or will be incarcerated during your pregnancy does not mean you lose that right. However, because of your circumstances, there are some complicated issues to consider when making the right choice moving forward.
If you are facing a pregnancy in prison, you will usually have four options available to you. If possible, it’s recommended that you explore your options before your incarceration, as resources and information may be limited inside your correctional facility. If you are currently pregnant and in jail, we recommend that you enlist a trusted friend or family member to help you gather the information you need to make the best choice for you.
Place Your Baby for Adoption
Adoption is always legal for a pregnant woman — and your situation as a pregnant inmate does not eliminate your right to choose this path for your baby. In fact, there are many adoption agencies that have prison adoption programs and will accommodate your circumstances to help you create a prison adoption plan that is right for you.
Some pregnant women in prison choose adoption because they want their baby to have the best life possible. Being raised inside a jail with an incarcerated mother often cannot give the same opportunities as life with an adoptive family can. Even if a woman wants to raise her child, a lengthy sentence may necessitate that the child be placed with a relative or taken into the foster care system until she is released from prison. To avoid those uncertainties, these women choose a prison infant adoption.
Adoption is a very personal and selfless decision to make. If you are or anticipate being a pregnant inmate, an adoption counselor can always answer your questions about adoption and help you make the right choice for you. While this counseling is more readily available before you are incarcerated, a professional can still work with you while you are in prison. The policies of your correctional facility will determine how much direct contact you can have with your personal adoption counselor and your prison caseworker.
Here is how a prison adoption can work:
- You will choose the adoptive parents. You will always have the right to find an adoptive family for your baby but, if you are incarcerated, you may not have the chance to meet them in person before you give birth. Your caseworker and counselor will help you decide what kind of family you want for your baby and then present you with adoptive family profiles to choose from. These professionals will likely be able to answer any additional questions you have.
- You can receive financial assistance. It’s important that you and your unborn baby receive the care you need to stay healthy. Your medical services and living expenses will likely be paid for by the state. However, you may receive limited financial assistance for items from your commissary (like stamps to send letters to the adoptive family or extra snacks for pregnancy cravings). Your adoption professional will help you obtain the services and resources you need to be comfortable during your pregnancy in prison.
- You may have contact with the adoptive parents. If you select adoptive parents before your incarceration, you may be able to get to know them through phone calls or in-person meetings. If you are currently pregnant in prison, your contact options may be more limited. You will usually be able to send letters to the adoptive parents, and your adoption professional may be able to coordinate phone calls with them (which the adoptive family will pay for). Your prison caseworker will ensure that you receive any letters and pictures from your child’s adoptive parents after placement, as well.
- You will give birth and then sign your adoption consent. Often, women ask, “What happens when you have a baby in jail?” You will likely be transported to a nearby hospital upon your due date, and you will be monitored by security. Depending on the situation, you may or may not interact with the adoptive family, but your prison caseworker will make sure the hospital is prepared for your unique situation and that you know what to expect, as well. An adoption lawyer will explain your rights as a prospective birth mother and, when you are ready, help you sign your adoption consent. You will always have the right to change your mind about your adoption but, if you wait too long to make a choice, state officials may take custody of your baby.
After your prison baby adoption is complete, your adoption professional and caseworker will advocate for you as your child grows up — meaning you will continue to receive any pictures and letters you desire in your open adoption relationship. They will also help you cope with any feelings of grief and loss after your placement.
Whether you know you will be pregnant in prison or you have unexpectedly found yourself pregnant behind bars, it’s important that you become your own advocate during the adoption process. Ask your prison officials for resources and information, and consider enlisting a friend or family member to advocate for your interests outside of your correctional facility.
Remember, adoption is always an option for you, no matter your personal circumstances.
Placing Your Baby with a Friend or Family Member
Other pregnant women in prison know that they want to raise their child after birth. They may be facing a shorter term length or have a trusted friend or family member whom they want to become their baby’s temporary guardian. If you are confident you can provide your child the life they deserve after you are released, a temporary guardianship may be the right option for you. You will know that your baby is being cared for by a loved one and will be returned to your custody after you are released.
Another option would be to complete a prison baby adoption with a friend or family member. This may give you peace of mind in knowing who is raising your child, but you will have to remember that even this kind of adoption is permanent. A placement with a friend or family member can cause some challenges after you are released. Consider whether this loved one can really provide the safe environment you want for your child before making this decision.
Placing Your Child with the Department of Social Services
Many mothers in jail want nothing less than for their child to be placed into the foster care system. However, if you do not create a solid plan for your child after you give birth in prison, there is a high likelihood that your baby will be taken into the custody of the state.
The goal of the Department of Social Services is to reunite a child with their biological parents, but officials may decide you cannot complete a reunification plan because of your situation after you are released from prison. If that is the case, your child could spend months or years in foster care waiting to be adopted. While there are loving foster parents and adoptive parents that can care for your child, there is also a great degree of uncertainty in this path. Speak with your prison caseworker for more information about foster care for your child in your situation.
Raising Your Baby in Jail
Depending on your personal situation and your prison policies, you may be able to raise your baby behind bars during the length of your sentence. Some facilities provide mother-and-baby units in prison, including nurseries and family preparation options. These facilities will help you care for your child and prepare you for motherhood after you are released. However, not all prisons provide these resources. If they are not available in your facility, this will not be an option for your pregnancy in prison.
You will need to consider the other options above if this is the case. Only you can decide what is best for you and your baby if you are facing giving birth in prison. Remember, you do have rights in this process. To learn more about them, please speak with your prison caseworker or an appropriate adoption professional, like: