Kansas prisons have some expectant mothers behind bars

Hutchinson (ap) — Alexa Baugh eagerly waits for the day she can hold her son outside of a Kansas prison.

The 26-year-old from Hutchinson sees her son, Angel, on weekends whenever her parents make the trek to the Topeka Correctional Facility. Baugh has been at the medium-security central unit since January.

If Kristin Ardolino’s court case had not been dismissed, the Newton woman this month likely would have become the first to give birth while incarcerated at the new Reno County Correctional Facility.

Being born behind bars is becoming an increasing likelihood as more women are going to prison — a population growing at a rate 50 percent faster than men. About 6 to 8 percent of women in prison or jails are pregnant at any given time in the United States, according to the American Public Health Association.

The Kansas Department of Corrections saw 46 babies delivered by women in its custody in the past four years.

Eight states currently have nursery programs allowing new mothers to raise children while serving time — with research showing they’re less likely to re-offend, The Hutchinson News reported.

Kansas isn’t one of them. Women who give birth behind bars here give up their babies to the Department of Children and Families and may see them only on visitation days, like any other family member.

Baugh violated her probation by using drugs when she was eight months pregnant, and Reno County District Judge Tim Chambers sentenced her to 18 months for the “welfare of the defendant and her unborn child.” Baugh was at Reno County Correctional Facility before going to TCF, and she said she felt safe being pregnant at both facilities. She said she felt more comfortable in Reno County because she knew other women, as well as guards.

Ardolino had a similar experience in Reno County, saying the staff worked to make sure she made all of her doctor appointments.

Capt. Shawn McClay, with the Reno County Sheriff’s Office, said he hasn’t had an inmate give birth since he took over as the jail administrator about six months before moving to the new facility in August 2015.

Protocols exist, however, to help expectant mothers who find themselves behind bars.

Women going into labor in Reno County’s jail would go to the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, with a guard staying with them, McClay said. Until then, the women remain in the jail’s general population.

“These ladies that we have are human, like everyone else. Not saying the risk wouldn’t be there, but they know it is an unborn child inside of that woman, as well,” McClay said. “I think the risk is pretty minimal.”

The detective in charge of the case is notified to make arrangements with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, if necessary.

Any visits after birth would have to be from the video kiosk in the lobby, just like everyone else.

In the Kansas Department of Corrections, pregnant women also live in the general population.

KDOC spokeswoman Cheryl Cadue said pregnant women are either seen by an obstetrician with the medical contractor Corizon or taken to appointments outside of prison.

Cadue said Corizon currently does not have an obstetrician on staff.

Baugh said five pregnant women were with her at the TCF Reception and Diagnostic Unit where they are checked out before being released into the general population.

“So, I found out it wasn’t uncommon to have a baby in prison,” Baugh wrote in an email from TCF. “Most of the (women) are mothers and were really nice and helped out with my chores and making sure I was getting enough food.”

Medicine is used to induce labor up to a week before the due date to better control the time of the birth.

Baugh said she started the medicine a few days before her scheduled cesarean section. Baugh said she moved to a minimum security facility less than an hour before her scheduled procedure.

On Feb. 15, she went to Stormont Vail Hospital, about 5 miles away.

Angel was born at 8:42 a.m. He weighed 7 pounds and 9 ounces. Baugh still remembers the first moment she held him.

“I remember feeling so much love for him (and) already being sad I was going to have to tell him goodbye,” Baugh wrote.

She stayed in the hospital with Angel for three days. KDOC staff checked on her daily. Then, she traded her hospital gown for a prison uniform.

Baugh saw a lot of Angel during the first six weeks after birth. KDOC allows daily visits during that time, and she said her parents made every possible attempt.

Now, she’s allowed weekend visits.

Completing an active parenting class allows mothers to visit their children in Women’s Activity Learning Center-themed rooms equipped with toys, and even go outside to the playground. Otherwise, Baugh said, the visits are in a shared room.

Baugh completed the class April 23.

The Women’s Activity Learning Center is a ministry under the United Methodist Women of the Great Plains. The ministry assists women with paperwork to place children in adoption, and temporary or permanent custody. KDOC also works with the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

At least eight other states have nursery programs so incarcerated mothers can stay with their children. The oldest in the country started in 1901 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.

The KDOC has no plans to start a nursery at Topeka, the only women’s facility in Kansas.

Research on nursery programs is limited but looks promising.

One study found recidivism rates of mothers who took part in the nursery program was only 4 percent. Another showed preschool-aged children separated from their mothers because of incarceration had “significantly worse” anxiety and depression than the children in prison nursery programs. Both studies were done by researchers at Columbia University.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department for Children and Families, the agency that works to place the infants in homes, has been under scrutiny for missing children. The agency also failed to act on reports of child abuse to 3-year-old Evan Brewer before his death. Brewer, who is the grandson of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl Brewer, was found encased in concrete in a Wichita home last year.

Baugh also has 2-year-old triplets she had adopted. She received letters every few months on how they are doing, as well as a 5-year-old that lives with the father. Baugh plans to take custody of Angel when she is released as early as Feb. 2, 2019.

“I wish I made better choices but (I’m) also thankful that I’m here and have the clean time, so when I get out, I have a better foundation to build off of to be a good mother to my child,” Baugh said via email. “I don’t know how I would have been able to do beforehand. I know my family (will) always help me … but my drug addiction is my obstacle to overcome.”

Another slip-up could mean years without Angel. Baugh said she has nine years as an underlying sentence in another case.

Meanwhile, Ardolino is fighting for custody of Arianna. Ardolino gave birth to her at 3:21 a.m. on May 4 at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. Arianna weighed 5 pounds and 6 ounces. She was born prematurely and had a low blood sugar count.

As Ardolino recovered from the birth, she learned DCF gave temporary custody to a family member.

Ardolino said the state noted her drug history in the decision to take Arianna. Ardolino’s case was dropped to let her out of jail in time to have her baby. The Reno County District Attorney’s Office refiled charges of aggravated battery on April 3. She’s charged with stabbing the father of her child. She has other active cases, as well.

Currently, she’s only allowed supervised visits.

“I’m going to do what I got to do to get my baby back,” she said.


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