Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Detention Center has approved an inmate breastfeeding policy that places it among a small group of jails and prisons nationwide offering inmates access to a breast pump and support.
Tracking by the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force shows at least 10 jails and five state prison systems, including New Mexico’s, that have or have experimented with policies allowing inmates access to a breast pump, milk storage and/or physical access to nurse their child.
MDC recently approved its formal policy after years of conversation over language about which inmates qualify for the policy and how to enact it securely.
“We’re really proud of MDC for being leaders,” said Lissa Knudsen, chairwoman of the Breastfeeding Task Force, which advocates for the rights of breastfeeding women and children. “This is a huge paradigm shift for them.”
The policy allows lactating inmates in general population to use a breast pump and storage facility and live breast-feed a child. Inmates in segregation or other specialty incarceration units will be allowed into the program case by case, according to the policy.
Volunteers and trained MDC staffers will help facilitate pumping and nursing visits.
The World Health Organization says that “exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or beyond,” and cites health benefits for mother and child.
In addition to health benefits, County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins says, there are psychological and societal benefits, too.
“It’s important to think about this as a public safety initiative. There are mountains of evidence that show having a child can be a very powerful motivator for change, so when inmates can stay connected with their families, their risk of recidivism goes down,” she said. “When we identify evidence-based public practices that support that (recidivism) goal, it’s worth investing.”
The Task Force is providing the breast pump, so there shouldn’t be an extra cost to the state facilities, Knudsen said.
Knudsen said her group, one of four to receive large grants from the Kellogg Foundation over the past five years, has advocated for such a policy at the state level, too.
The New Mexico Department of Corrections last year implemented a pilot lactation program but faced a lawsuit over its implementation by an inmate who said she was prevented from physically nursing her baby during visitation. That lawsuit under litigation.