Inmates at Wilsonville’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for Women are upset after prison staff mixed up breast milk pumped by female prisoners for their infants on the outside.
The program, letting female prisoners indirectly breast-feed children born behind bars, has existed for seven years. Nursing mothers are allowed to use a breast pump in a monitored room to collect milk several times a day. Bags of milk are then taken to the prison’s medical center, where nurses freeze and store the milk for later distribution to family members or foster parents.
Though the program is aimed at improving the mental health of inmates and fostering incarcerated mothers’ relationships with their children, it has not existed without complication. Last fall, four inmates who were part of the program realized that their labeled bags of breast milk had been mixed up and that their children had been given the wrong milk. Outside caregivers informed the prisoners that they’d received bags of milk with the names of other mothers, and sometimes bags without any labels at all.
Apart from the violation of certain ethical values, significant health dangers to infants are evident in this particular case of malpractice. The milk of one nursing mother diagnosed with Hepatitis C was accidentally given to the babies of mothers without the disease. And since inmates throughout the Coffee Creek prison have reported prescribed and possible illegal drug use among some of the nursing mothers, there is concern that the children are receiving breast milk containing traces of unwanted medications, drugs, or alcohol.
In regards to the health risks for infants who could have received contaminated milk, the Wilsonville prison’s staff had no comment.
Upon discovering the mix-up, inmates were informed by staff members that it is unlikely for Hepatitis C to be transmitted through breast milk. Outside doctors, however, claim that there is a small chance the disease could be contracted this way. To find out, doctors must wait 18 months until screening tests can be performed accurately.
After complaints were filed by inmates, some mothers quit the breastfeeding program. As for the women still participating, they are now required by the Department of Corrections to check each bag of milk personally before the bags are given to outside caregivers.
By Kiki Genoa