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Women offenders bond with babies

By Staff Reporters
© Galveston Daily News
March 7, 2007

TEXAS CITY — Women don’t go to prison to bond with their babies. But that’s what can happen at the Sheltered Housing Unit at the Carole Young Medical Facility in Texas City.

The minimum-security unit has helped female offenders with medical needs since 1996. It serves both state jail and Texas Department of Criminal Justice offenders. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston provides the medical care.

Kathi Simpson, nurse manager at the facility since 2003, said the total outpatient capacity is 306 but approximately 100 of those are assigned workers — inmates who are healthy but who are assigned to jobs at the facility, such as doing laundry, cutting grass and cooking food. These inmates have a separate dormitory, she noted.

Also, she said, some of the patients at times have “part-time jobs” in which they can work part time and earn “good time” for earlier release.

Between 80 and 100 of the patients at any time are pregnant; inmates assigned to the facility because of its obstetrical clinic typically make up the largest patient group.

After delivery, new mothers on the unit who have permission from the warden participate in the Love Me Tender baby-bonding program, in which they can see their babies not only during scheduled weekend visitation hours, but also for any two-hour period weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The babies are not housed at the unit, but state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston has filed a bill, HB 1770, which, if passed, would provide housing for infants up to 1-year-old.

After one year, Simpson noted, another Texas Department of Criminal Justice program allows extended visitation with children up to 16 years old, so inmates “roll from one program right into another.”

Female dialysis patients are also housed at the unit, along with women with AIDS, hepatitis and cancer. Patients at the unit have easy access to the pill window, chow hall and commissary. The unit’s vans transport the offenders to meet their appointments at Hospital Galveston, the UTMB hospital serving the Criminal Justice Department.

The inpatient infirmary also provides hospice care. Any female inmate who has a prognosis of six months or less to live can be placed in the hospice program.

“Fortunately, this program does not get used much,” Simpson said.

Usually, only one patient at a time is in the hospice and, frequently, no one is in this program.

Besides medical care, the unit offers educational opportunities. Inmates get the chance to qualify for a GED. Another program is CHANGES, which stands for Changing Habits and Achieving New Goals to Empower Success. This 60-day course, offered three hours per day during the week through the Criminal Justice Department’s Wyndham School, is available to anyone within 24 months of release from the system. The course seeks to help inmates improve interpersonal relationships, coping skills and personal development.