Prison nursery program gets high marks - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Prison nursery program gets high marks

Angelina Hernandez Fields is held by her mother, Balbina. Angelina Hernandez Fields is held by her mother, Balbina.
Angelina celebrated her first birthday in the prison nursery. Angelina celebrated her first birthday in the prison nursery.

Sandra Chapman/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - A unique program allowing babies to live behind bars with their mothers is getting high reviews from Indiana lawmakers.

Birthday cake or not, Angelina Hernandez Fields doesn't care much for confinement. She spent the last year bunking in a cell behind bars with her mother, Balbina. Now, the two are celebrating significant milestones - Angelina's first birthday and their upcoming departure from the Indiana Women's Prison and its "Wee Ones" program.

"I'm just so happy, because they've done so much for me here," said the 33-year-old mother.

Balbina Hernandez first discovered she was two weeks pregnant with Angelina in a county jail, locked up for drug dealing.

"I just know that I was motivated and feeling strong about keeping my baby here, because my other two kids, I lost them, because after coming to prison, I had to let somebody adopt them," Hernandez said.

This time would be different. Balbina completed a substance abuse program, took training classes and earned one of the coveted cells in the special nursery for moms and newborns.

"We'll have anywhere from 35-40 offenders that may be pregnant," said Maj. Pete Peckham, Indiana Department of Correction. "So it's very competitive for the women to show that they are remorseful in their crimes and that they want to do better."

The facility can only house 10 mothers and babies at a time. The women must be non-violent offenders and ready for release within 18 months. Little Angelina is the first baby to spend an entire year in the program, which is funded by private grants and gifts.

Some of the donations from the personal pockets of state lawmakers.

"We need to do everything we can to try to educate and reform individuals and not just house them. That's not what this is about and this program is obviously one that's going to help the future be brighter," said State Rep. Nancy Michael (D-Greencastle).

"I don't think there's any question that we would want to make sure a program like this is fully supported. It seems to me like it's a perfect public-private partnership," said State Rep. John Barnes (D-Indianapolis).

The bond of a mother and daughter forged inside prison walls.

"It's changed my whole life, my whole outlook on things. I understand that I can't get out there and do wrong, or I'll come back here," said Hernandez.

The program operates on $15,000 a year from grants and donations. A local pediatrician volunteers medical care and the Marion County Health Department provides counseling from its Healthy Start program.

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