Babies behind bars: 14 babies currently living inside Washington - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Babies behind bars: 14 babies currently living inside Washington prison

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GIG HARBOR, Wash -

Right now, there are 970 people living inside Washington's Correction Center for women, 14 of them are babies.

"This program has saved my life," said inmate Karen McIntosh. "It hasn't changed it. It's saved it."

McIntosh and her daughter Aryanna are among the qualifying mom and baby duo's participating in the Residential Parenting Program right now. Qualifying inmates can have their babies live with them while they complete their sentences. Washington's is only one of 12 in the state.

"You got nothing better to do with your time then be with your child," McIntosh said. "You live with your child, you cook for your child, sleep with your child, read books to your child."

In fact, the only time the inmates are even away from their babies is when they are working to better through future.

"I not only got sober, I graduated cosmetology school," said inmate Crystal Lansdale "I'm leaving with a degree."

Lansdale drops off here 18-month-old son Kirshawn at the prison's Early Head Start program while she takes courses or works as a custodian inside the facility. This facility is the only one in the country to have Early Head Start.

"We strive to make this a calm and caring atmosphere," said Early Head Start Family Educator, Rita Dierck. "It makes a difference. I've seen the difference."

Dierck said while in Early Head Start, the babies get care and attention from experts. She said she enjoys watching the incredible bond between mom and baby.

"You can't get back those early days and that time as a parent," she said. "I think most people would understand how important those early days in a child's life are."

Inmates are carefully screened before they are accepted into the Residential Parenting Program. Staff look at the offense committed, behavior, previous interactions with CPS, and the duration of their sentence. Thirty months is the maximum amount of time a child can live with their mother inside the facility. If the inmate's sentence, after their due date, exceeds that 30 months cut off, they automatically do not qualify. Violent offenders are also not permitted into the program.

"This program promotes change," said staff member Larry Ball. "If the mother's change, it gives the children a fighting chance. The children are teaching mother's continued responsibility."

The babies are also kept away from violent offenders. McIntosh said she's never been worried about her daughter's safety.

"Absolutely not," she said.

"The kids don't feel like they're in this scary place," said Lansdale. "They don't know any different. This is home."

In fact, Lansdale said she's never felt more support in her life.

"It's like living in a support ground 24/7," she said. "Everybody here has a child under the age of three right now. I have 14 other people to get advice from."

Like the majority of inmates we spoke with, the father of Lansdale's baby is also incarcerated. She said she isn't sure where her son would be today if this program didn't exist.

"I took a plea deal to get here as fast as I could so I would have a chance to raise my son," she said.

All involved in this program realize not everyone supports it. To that, staff just ask that you educate yourself before you form an opinion.

"Learn before you judge," said Ball. 

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