The Chicago Family Law Blog

Who Gets Custody Of Children Born In Prison?

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Babies born to incarcerated mothers are not much different than babies born on the outside of prison: they require nutrition, affection, pediatric care and a stable domestic life. That means they can't possibly be reared behind bars without additional nursery facilities; so what happens to these children?

Child custody matters involving incarcerated parents, particularly mothers, are not one-size-fits-all.

One Chicago family law attorney representing the biological father of a prison-born child is seeking immediate custody of the girl on behalf of his client, according to a press release by the attorney's law firm. The daughter of Chicago resident Clement Bell, Ryleigh, was born to a federal prisoner in Texas and reportedly given her mother's last name.

As the press release asserts, attorney Art Kallow successfully pressed Cook County Judge Michael Panter to order a DNA test which confirmed Mr. Bell's paternity. Neither the mother's full name nor the child's current last name were mentioned, but Mr. Bell is petitioning the court to have her surname changed to Bell.

The mother was convicted of a drug offense but the length of her sentence and ability to support a child upon release were not made clear in the press release.

Some women's prisons in nine states including Illinois actually provide adjoining nurseries for the children of incarcerated mothers, according to a national Women's Prison Association report on prison nursery programs (PDF). Although the age of baby Ryleigh, or whether her mother wished to breast feed her daughter were not discussed in the aforementioned press release, such nursery facilities would make that relationship possible.

Decatur Correctional Center currently is the only Illinois women's prison that offers nursery services to mothers, limited to 24 months and available to five mother/infant pairs, according to the report. To qualify, mothers must be non-violent offenders and be within two years of being released after the date of birth.

Related Resources:

  • Custody and Visitation in Non-Divorce Cases (FindLaw)  
  • From Inside a Women's Prison (Reuters)
  • Illinois Family Lawyer Directory (FindLaw)

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