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Moms behind bars now able to pump breastmilk for babies

WETUMPKA, Ala. (AP) — Inmates at an Alabama women’s prison are now able to pump breastmilk in lactation rooms for their babies who are outside the prison’s walls.

The nonprofit Alabama Prison Birth Project worked with Julia Tutwiler Prison to design lactation rooms and provide pumping equipment for the moms, reported.

The nonprofit works to improve the health of babies born to incarcerated women. The incarcerated mothers pump breastmilk in the room, then label and store their milk in a freezer. Each week, a representative from Alabama Prison Birth Project picks up the milk and distributes it to each child’s caregiver.

State officials say the number of pregnant women at Tutwiler ranges from 40 to 50 each year.

Women make up about 6 percent of the incarcerated population in Alabama.

“It’s not anything that anybody can be really prepared for, having to be separated from your baby,” inmate Latasha James said. “(Watching) them wheel the baby away from me was really hard.”

James entered Tutwiler Prison two weeks before she gave birth to her daughter in October, reported. The new mother spent three days with her baby before she had to go to prison.

The program at Tutwiler “helps me feel kind of somewhat bonded without us being around each other,” said James.

Wendy Williams is deputy commissioner of women’s services at the Alabama Department of Corrections. Williams said she began looking at potential prison reforms at Tutwiler after a Justice Department investigation in 2014 detailed horrifying conditions there.

“Tutwiler has a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment,” the report stated. “The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety.”

The report found that Tutwiler staff had raped, beaten and sexually harassed women inmates at the prison, and that inmates lived under “a constant threat of sexual violence.”

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