Thursday marks the grand opening of a new home for the Ohio Reformatory for Women's Achieving Baby Care Success program (ABC).
ABC is the only program in the state that allows qualifying mothers - who are pregnant at the time of incarceration - keep their babies with them in prison.
The program's brand new building will house up to 26 moms and their children. The project cost the state more than $2 million.
The ABC program was formerly located in a locked unit just off the reception area where new inmates first arrive at the prison. The unit was retrofitted to serve as the nursery and had some drawbacks. For example, the walls of the unit didn't go all the way to the ceiling, which made it difficult for some moms to get their babies to sleep.
When WOSU visited the old unit in November 2018, inmate Aura Yazell said it was hard enough to get a newborn to sleep without the sounds of the other babies crying, too.
“I just got my baby to go back to sleep,” she said, cradling her sleeping son in her arms. “Please stop crying, please don’t wake him up with your crying.”
A large window in the old unit let officers outside keep watch over the nursery, but also allowed new inmates to look in, which made mom Alisha Floyd uncomfortable.
“That’s where the people look in the window and stare at the babies,” Floyd said. “We don’t know what their charges are. That’s really what I don’t like.”
The new nursery building was designed to address the moms' concerns. It has a full kitchen to prepare meals, an in-unit officer, and more room for ABC programming like breast feeding consultation, post-partum counseling, Head Start and weekly appointments with a pediatrician.
These resources are vital to the success of the program, said former warden Ronette Burkes.
“You go to school and you learn how to do all these things, but who teaches you how to be a parent?” she says.