Women living with babies inside Ohio prison

Marysville prison nursery has served 289 female inmates and their children since 2001.


The soft-spoken young woman sitting on the floor with her toddler son playing with toy cars could easily be in any setting. A preschool. A child care center. Or her own living room.

Instead, she and her 22-month-old son live in the nursery of the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, where she is a serving a prison sentence.

“I’m a first time-mom in prison with my first kid,” said the woman, who is scheduled to be released in early January.

She is one of six women and their children in the Achieving Baby Care Success program, the only one of its kind in the Ohio prison system. She agreed to be interviewed as long as the newspaper does not publish her name or her son’s name or discuss the felony conviction that landed her in prison two years ago. She is in her early 20s and from a rural northeast Ohio county.

“I’m just thankful and blessed to be here,” she said. “To be able to take care of your kid and not have somebody else take care of your kid. So even though I’ve made mistakes, my son still gets to be really lucky to be with me and to have me change for him.”

More women are incarcerated in Ohio’s jails and prisons, and that has led to an unusual sight: babies.

>>RELATED:  Pregnant inmates have Ohio jails scrambling to provide care

The nursery program at the Marysville prison has served 289 female prisoners and their children since it began in 2001. Of that group, 222 successfully completed the program, said Ronette Burkes, the reformatory warden.

“We have mothers in here that have come to prison who have made a mistake and that want to raise their children, want to have an active role in their children’s life. That want to be better parents,” Burkes said.

“These are children that are not ending up in the system. They’re going home with their mom.”

The state’s nursery program is open to a limited number of women who were pregnant when they entered prison and who agree to strict rules of conduct in order to keep their babies after they are born. They can only stay up to 36 months and are not eligible for the program if their sentences extend beyond that.

Ohio prisons: Annual total pregnant female inmates

YearTotal
2011143
2012136
2013142
2014130
2015147
2016116
2017 through March24

Source: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Getting into the nursery program is not easy and it is only available to women serving convictions for 4th or 5th degree felonies, and in some cases a 3rd degree felony. Their offenses must have been non-violent and they cannot have any convictions for crimes against a child.

Burkes says she watches the women grow up and become better mothers in the nursery.

>>RELATED: Court program makes women earn their second chance

“It certainly sobers them in a sense of letting go some of that selfishness and the selfish behaviors that they were practicing,” she said.

The mom interviewed works in prison admissions, has used her time in prison to earn a GED and is on the waiting list for office administration and web design classes.

It’s in prison, she said, where she reoriented her priorities.

“Now it’s about him,” she said. “For him, here and when I get out. Right now my plan is to get out, find a job, continue going to school. I want to go to school for something I can have a career for.”

ABOUT THIS PROJECT: See our story about the impact of rising numbers of incarcerated women, some pregnant and addicted to drugs, on Ohio’s county jails and prison system. We also look more closely at the prison nursery program and what a day in Women’s Therapeutic Court is like for women drug offenders.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Greater Dayton RTA buses could be rid of cash fares by 2020
Greater Dayton RTA buses could be rid of cash fares by 2020

The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority hopes to modernize its payment system and get rid of cash fares by 2020, officials said Wednesday. More than half of RTA riders have migrated to passes, including monthly and weekly passes, said Mark Donaghy, CEO of the agency.  The agency will work to become the first major transit authority in the...
Pastor: Community ‘in shock’ after news about Good Samaritan closing
Pastor: Community ‘in shock’ after news about Good Samaritan closing

Hours after Good Samaritan Hospital officials announced Wednesday that the facility will close later this year, reaction about the community impact has been wide ranging. "It's devastating news, I was shocked" said Daryl Ward, pastor of Omega Baptist Church in Dayton.  His church is just down the street from Good Samaritan Hospital,...
2 males sought in Kettering home invasion robbery
2 males sought in Kettering home invasion robbery

Police are continuing to look for two males who committed a home invasion robbery on Hazel Avenue.  Investigators don't know what led the invaders to pick the home they did Wednesday afternoon, Kettering Police Patrolman John Jung said.  According to the preliminary investigation, the two males forced their way inside just before 4 p.m.,...
Job outlook is promising for Good Samaritan employees, official says
Job outlook is promising for Good Samaritan employees, official says

After Wednesday’s announcement that Good Samaritan Hospital will shut its doors for good at the end of the year, many in the Miami Valley are wondering what will happen to the facility’s 1,600 employees. The hospital’s parent company, Premier Health, said its goal is to offer jobs to all those employees at its other facilities in...
Ann Curry speaks out about Matt Lauer sexual harassment allegations in new interview
Ann Curry speaks out about Matt Lauer sexual harassment allegations in new interview

Ann Curry has remained tight-lipped since the news broke of Matt Lauer’s alleged sexual misconduct, but she spoke about the scandal on “CBS This Morning.” The 61-year-old journalist and producer appeared on the program Wednesday to discuss her new PBS docuseries “We’ll Meet Again” and she was asked to speak...
More Stories