Correctional center nursery bill advances

JEFFERSON CITY -- A proposed piece of bipartisan legislation that would establish a nursery program in Missouri correctional facilities has passed through the Senate and was heard Monday afternoon for the first time in the House at a public hearing.

Senate Bill 834, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, would establish the "Correctional Center Nursery Program," allowing eligible inmates who give birth while in Missouri Department of Corrections custody to stay with their child in the institution for up to 18 months post-delivery.

"The bill is intended to ensure the mother and child develop a strong bond, the child avoids the foster care system and to drastically reduce recidivism among its participants," Luetkemeyer said at Monday's hearing.

The act would require MDC to establish a nursery in one or more of the correctional centers for women operated by the Department by July 1, 2025.

An inmate would be eligible for the program if she:

• Delivers the child while in custody of the department.

• Gives birth on or after the program is implemented.

• Has a presumptive release date of 18 months or less from the date she applies to participate in the program.

• Has no dangerous felony, sexual offense or offenses against the family convictions.

• Meets any other criteria established by the department.

A similar bill, House Bill 1897, sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, that would also establish the "Correctional Center Nursery Program" passed through the House and was recently referred to the Senate Committee on Seniors, Families, Veterans and Military Affairs.

"The one that we passed out of the House did not have the last paragraph, which gives total immunity for any acts of employees or the state in taking care of these children," said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville. "Remove that part of the bill so that the individuals taking care of these children have to use at least ordinary care ... the same as any other state agency is required to do."

Twenty-six women gave birth while in MDC custody in 2020, according to bill's current fiscal note. In 2021, 25 women gave birth while in the department's custody.

The department said the conversion of one wing of one housing unit to establish a seven-bed capacity nursery wing will likely meet the capacity needs of the program due to the typically short stays of the offenders post-delivery, the bills fiscal note states.

Based on that data and the delayed implementation date, it is estimated the program will cost $325,606 in the 2023 fiscal year, $552,774 in the 2024 fiscal year and $913,174 in the 2025 fiscal year.

The "Correctional Center Nursery Program Fund," also established in SB 834, would be used to maintain the program, the bill summary states.

"When we talk about cost savings on this through recidivism, we also see direct cost savings through these children not going into our foster care system," David Jackson with Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition said at Monday's hearing. "The more we can connect them with their mother, the better."

If passed, Missouri would be the 10th state to establish such a program, according to SB 834's current fiscal summary.

Nothing in the bill would affect, modify or interfere with the inmate's custodial rights to the child nor establish legal custody of the child with the department.

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