Minnesota lawmakers passed the Healthy Start Act in 2021, which allows some mothers to live outside of prison with their new babies, according to NPR. A handful of other states, including Indiana and Washington, have nurseries that let incarcerated mothers keep their babies with them inside prison. In most places, however, a woman who gives birth in jail or prison is separated from her baby within hours or days. According to Deputy Commissioner Safia Khan, the Minnesota program is a way to "prevent that separation from happening at a very critical time for the development of that newborn baby and to allow for that mother-child bond." All pregnant and recently postpartum women who come into Minnesota's prison system are considered eligible for Healthy Start.
In the last two years, of 38 women screened for the program, 2 have been accepted. Women can be rejected if their sentences are too long or if their parental rights have been terminated, among other reasons. The bigger question for many is why these women are caught up in the criminal justice system in the first place. "For me, the most important and critical piece of this puzzle is just how complicated these families and circumstances are," said Rebecca Shlafer, a professor at the University of Minnesota, who is evaluating the prison's pregnancy program for the Department of Corrections. "We need to move upstream to earlier interventions and earlier investments in maternal and child health as a crime prevention strategy," she said, "so that we are not at the end of a line here saying, how do we solve all of these really complex social problems with one intervention called the Healthy Start Act?"