Jail to House Pregnant Inmates Together

"Division 17" aims to meet pre-natal needs of pregnant inmates

By Ivanna Hampton and Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Thursday, Dec 9, 2010  |  Updated 5:40 PM CDT
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Jailed moms-to-be will soon be able share the motherhood experience together -- behind bars. 

The Cook County Jail on Thursday unveiled a special tier where pregnant inmates who are waiting trial will be housed.  "Division 17" fills a floor of the old Cermak Hospital, and aims to meet the pre-natal needs of moms-to-be.

Exist are the standard examination rooms one would expect and other areas where inmates can receive counseling and parenting classes.

"The groups, instead of just sitting around, this is recovery," said Carmelita Williams.  "We're all learning something from being here."

Sheriff Tom Dart said the idea isn't to coddle female inmates, but rather to give their unborn children a better chance at a healthy, successful life once they're born.

"What we did is, once again, tried to remove the blinders of just being a pure jail.  And we sit there and say to ourselves, 'A, what's the right thing to do, but B, what's the fiscally-responsible thing to do," said Dart.

Women, who complete parenting classes, would qualify for "contact visits" with their babies and other children in the “Bright Space Room."

It's a stark difference from the normal visitations, which are held between panes of thick glass.

Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins was an early backer of the plan, which follows lawsuits filed earlier this year by former inmates who said they were shackled during childbirth.

"It's kind of a change of culture and attitude for everybody here to see and understand how important it is to treat pregnant women humane," she said.

It's a humanity that is hoped young mothers will pass onto their children.

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