Babies Behind Bars

Chain link gates stand 12 feet tall. Barbed wire stacked on top. An armed officer stands guard. It's a harsh environment.

But tucked inside the prison, a stark contrast. An area that looks and sounds like your average, cozy daycare.

It's the only environment 5-month-old Essence has ever known.

Nature, Essence's mother says, "I found out in county that I was pregnant and I've been incarcerated for the whole pregnancy and it was hard."

Nature is serving time for theft and terroristic threats. She is up for parole in March 2012. Essence lives at the prison with her.

Nature says, "They do round checks so we hear that going in and out, so it's not your average home setting."

A few doors down from Nature, Sharie Colbert and her three-month-old son, Cordai.

Sharie says, "I see most of the mothers in here, they're changing."

Sharie is also serving time for theft. She came here nine months pregnant, and can't imagine the thought of giving Cordai up.

Sharie says, "I would have probably been in, I want to say lockdown or something, but I couldn't have done it."

Moms like Sharie must qualify for the program. They are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. They are required to hold a job at the prison, and they are responsible for keeping the nursery area clean.

As far as dressing their babies, the moms rely on donations at the prison. The clothes are all stored in a closet, and the moms get to pick items out for their babies.

The nursery also relies on donations for almost everything from bouncers, to bottles.

The program began at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in 1994. Since then, 156 inmates have gone through it.

Parenting Program Coordinator Mary Allen has been helping these moms for 21 years.

Allen says, "It takes a mother coming here sometimes for her to realize what she's done is so devastating for her children."

Allen knows there are critics of the program, but says it works.

The percentage of inmates in the general population that end up coming back is around 22%.

The recidivism rate for inmates in the nursery program...

"Amongst our nursery mothers, it's 10%, so we're real proud of that." says Allen.

Sharie and Nature, both committed to being in that 90% that never comes back.

Nature says, "It's a wake up call to step up and do what I have to do."

The nursery program started with grant money, but after it's success the state picked it up.

Over the years, other grants have picked up some of the costs. However, the nursery relies heavily on donations for clothes, toys, and gear for the babies.

For more information on how to donate, contact Malorie Maddox at malorie.maddox@wowt.com.


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