Group Members Laurel Bates, Maedchen Britton, Rachel Brouwer, Nick Ferrell Purpose Statement



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Statement of Need
It is a fact generally acknowledged that the prison population in the United States suffers from poor nutrition (Reutter, Hunter, & Sample, n.d.). While this issue is one that is widespread in scope and difficult to remedy, it does have its advocates. One way in which this problem can be addressed is at a smaller scale, focusing primarily on particular demographics that are at high risk for nutrient deficiencies. Expectant and nursing inmates compose such a demographic. Due to their unique situation, these women should be the first to benefit from nutrition reform, as their own health is not all that is at stake.

Some may take the stance that there are few women who are pregnant or nursing while in prison, and therefore this initiative has little real impact. They should recognize that while the relative number of incarcerated pregnant women is small, this is a growing issue and one that impacts real lives. In 2004, roughly 4% to 6% of female prisoners were pregnant or nursing upon arrival in prison (Maruschak, 2008). By 2007, 10% of the estimated 105,000 female inmates were expecting, making a leap of 4,000 to 6,000 imprisoned mothers and their children impacted to over 10,500 such individuals (Clark, et al., 2005). This number continues to rise as incarceration rates for female criminals rises and this issue needs to be promptly addressed.

Because nutrition for pregnant and nursing prisoners affects their innocent infants it is important to put those children’s interests at the forefront of this initiative. It has been proven through multiple studies that prenatal nutrition and breastfeeding are central to children’s healthy development. It is unethical to deprive these children of proper nutrition simply because their parent has committed crimes. While others may claim that pregnant women should know the risks to their children before committing such an offense, or that it is unlikely that such women, a great majority of whom are from a low socioeconomic station, would provide their children with such good nutrition, it is not permissible to punish these children for the behavior of their parents. Again, the children’s best interests are to be given the highest consideration.

With this in mind, it is essential that incarcerated women be permitted to breastfeed their infants of 12 months of age or younger. Numerous studies have shown that a mother’s breast milk has enormous benefits for the child as well as the mother. Included in these are heightened immune systems, better bonding with the parent, and excellent nutrition. Breast milk provides all of the antibodies the children need to build strong immune systems as their immune systems are extremely underdeveloped at the beginning of life. Because it is designed for infants, it also adapts to their nutritional needs, offering a much better option than formula. Furthermore, breast milk has been shown to improve IQ, giving at-risk infants an advantage, particularly with studies indicating a correlation between lower intelligence and risk of incarceration (Benefits of Breastfeeding, n.d.).

In addition to the benefits for the infant, mothers also receive beneficial effects from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding dramatically lowers risk for post-partum hemorrhaging, which can be fatal, as well as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and female cancers. It also helps to maintain healthy levels of iron in the body, replace the lost calcium in the bones, and return to pre-pregnancy weight (Dermer, 2007). Finally, research shows that breastfeeding correlates with lower instances of post-partum depression, which female inmates are particularly at risk for, as female prisons have very high rates of depression (Maruschak).

Naysayers may declare that simply because a female inmate is pregnant or nursing does not mean they should be given more nutritious meals. In fact, they may point out, singling these women out may cause a dangerous backlash from those prisoners who are not in the benefited demographic. Although this is a valid concern, it is not one that should hamper this initiative as measures to protect these women could easily be put in place. Further concerns may include the cost to society to feed these women more nutritious meals. This, however, is a misplaced concern, as the cost of feeding the children of these women with formula, general cost to society of the health problems breastfeeding helps to prevent, and potential cost of at-risk children who have lower IQ’s continuing the criminal cycle together outweigh the initial cost of better nutrition for these women and allowing them to breastfeed their children.

Many may also believe that the costs of implementing such a program will be astronomical. While there is a significant start-up costs, there is also a strong potential to greatly reduce overall long-term costs for the mothers and the prison systems.

The Illinois Department of Corrections recently celebrated the fifth year anniversary of their “Mothers and Babies” program, which allowed incarcerated women to keep their children with them during their term of incarceration. Not one woman who has gone through this program has returned to prison on new charges (Decatur). The average cost of keeping a healthy person in prison is $25,000 (C. Marcum, personal communication, October 24, 2013). Lowered recidivism rates bring incredible savings to the prison system. Women are likely to stay out of prison if they have a close connection with their child and it has been shown that the act of breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between mother and child. This program would also help to prepare women with a skill set that will ease the transition into life after prison.

Breastfeeding would also provide another reduction in cost for the prisons by reducing formula costs. An increase in the mother’s nutrition enables her to feed her child herself. Currently, all prisons must provide formula for mothers who keep their children with them (Marcum). The average cost of a year’s supply of formula for one child for a year is about one thousand dollars. (Bonyata) For 100 children, this averages out to 100,000 dollars a year. Improving the nutrition of the mothers is far more cost-effective in this regard.

Improved prenatal nutrition also results in decreased healthcare costs for both mother and child. One study even found that for each dollar spent on prenatal care, $2.74 were saved in healthcare costs. (Gorsky) Improved nutrition for the mother also leads to a lower risk of costly diseases. The nutritional knowledge gained by the mother also has the potential to reduce health costs long term.

Not only will the mothers’ recidivism rates likely decrease in part because of breastfeeding, but the outlook is better for the child also. “Children who had mother’s milk were 24 per cent more likely to be upwardly mobile and 20 per cent less likely to move downwards compared with children who were never breastfed.” (Hope) Creating a better and more stable situation for the child will lower incarcerated rates and the associated costs.




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