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Maple Ridge prison opens new mother-child unit

A program that allows female inmates to care for their newborn babies reopened in Maple Ridge this week, four years after it was shut down by the province.

The Alouette Correctional Centre for Women has a new nursery decorated with motifs of Winnie the Pooh, flowers and animals, new furniture, a kitchen, a child-bathing area, as well as a playroom with toys and books.

“The goal of the Mother-Child Program is to support the bond between a mother and her baby,” said Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton, who toured the facility recently.

“By providing access to prenatal care, parenting programs and community resources, this program will help strengthen that relationship.”

It cost the province $163,000 to set up the new program, which officially opened Monday.

The province was forced to reinstate the program due to a court ruling, which deemed the government’s decision to close it unconstitutional.

The December court ruling held that mothers’ and babies’ rights were violated by the government “arbitrarily” ending the program in 2008, resulting in infants being separated from their mothers during a vital formative period.

Since the Alouette program shut down, 23 incarcerated mothers have given birth. All 23 babies ended up in foster care.

The new mother-child unit has space for nine inmates, who will receive the same prenatal and postnatal education available to expectant mothers in the community.

Anton said mothers will be required to participate in a parenting program. They will also will receive support and assistance to deal with social and behavioural issues in order to reduce recidivism and help them successfully transition to life outside a correctional centre.

Mo Korchinski, a Maple Ridge mother and former inmate, was incarcerated at Alouette while the program was running and credits it for inspiring her to reconnect with her own children, who she hadn’t seen for 11 years.

She points to the few lucky mothers who got to keep their babies while the pilot program ran as examples of its success. Of the 12 mothers, nine have not reoffended and continue to care for their children.

Korchinski said most have gone back to school, others are married or working.

“I’ve seen it and it makes a total difference,” said Korchinski, who works with former inmates as a project coordinator with the University of British Columbia’s Unlocking the Gates peer mentor program.

“I was devastated when the program shut down. It is so healing for the other women, too, not just for the mothers.”

Korchinski is glad that B.C. Corrections’ is committed to allowing the women to participate in community-based programs.

“The community of Maple Ridge wants to help,” she added. “These women are part of our community and it takes a community to raise a child and support the moms.”

There are currently four women in B.C. Corrections’ custody who are pregnant. However, only one inmate is expected to give birth during her time in custody.

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