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Prison Nursery Programs

August 25, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Prison nursery programs (PNPs) provide incarcerated mothers with educational training in child development and parenting skills, while also giving them an opportunity to bond with their newborns. Eight states currently have PNPs; their policies and practices vary from state to state. The Missouri Department of Corrections currently has procedures for incarcerated pregnant women, including prenatal care, counseling, delivery, and follow-up care. Missouri currently does not offer a PNP for incarcerated pregnant women. 


  • In Missouri, approximately 1% of the incarcerated woman population is pregnant.
  • PNPs are associated with reductions in recidivism and improved maternal mental health.
  • Children of mothers in PNPs have lower rates of depression, anxiety, and  learning disabilities than babies who were unable to maintain their mother-child connection.
  • State PNPs differ in qualification criteria, staffing, procedures, offerings, and length of stay.


  • Studies on the effectiveness of PNPs for reducing recidivism, improving mental health, and  child development outcomes for the long-term are still ongoing.
  • The relationship between the length of participation in a PNP and reduction in recidivism, improvements in mental health, and child development outcomes remains unknown. 
  • Low-risk offenders are eligible for participation in PNP programs; it is unknown how a program would affect recidivism and mental health in high-risk offenders. 
  • Most incarcerated women are likely to be afflicted with poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, mental illnesses and will often return to those same situations once leaving the corrections system.
    • Community aftercare programs that can provide additional support to mothers being released may be necessary to ensure they transition successfully back to life outside the corrections system.
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