Being pregnant in jail or in prison is not an uncommon situation. However, if you’re pregnant and in jail, you may not be sure what options are available to you. What happens when you have a baby in jail, and how do you complete a prison adoption?
It’s important to know exactly what your options are if you’re pregnant in prison: temporarily or permanently placing your baby with a member of your family or a friend, letting the state take custody of your child after birth, or creating an adoption plan with an adoption lawyer or adoption agency. Whichever option you choose, it’s important that you have as much information as possible to know that it’s the right decision for you and your baby — as difficult as a choice it can be to make.
If you anticipate giving birth in prison, it’s a good idea to explore these options before you are incarcerated. Once you are in prison, the information and resources available to you for making your decision may be more limited so, if possible, it’s encouraged that you reach out to professionals before your intake.
First Off: Adoption is Legal No Matter Where You Are
Even if you’re not in prison or anticipate being imprisoned soon, you may ask, “Can you go to jail for giving a child up for adoption?” If you’re already in jail, you may wonder whether choosing adoption can extend your sentence.
You should know that adoption is always a legal option when completed properly by a new mother, no matter what her situation. In fact, by choosing to safely place your child with a screened and prepared adoptive family, you will actually avoid any legal repercussions like child abandonment or neglect. Remember: you can always legally choose an adoption, and there are many professionals out there willing to help you complete the legal and emotional process involved.
Choosing a Prison Adoption
You can still complete an adoption if you’re pregnant in jail — and your adoption professional will accommodate your individual circumstances to help you create an adoption plan that’s right for you.
Depending on how long you have until your intake, you may be able to start an adoption plan before you are incarcerated. Once you are in prison, your adoption process will likely be mediated by your prison caseworker. They’ll work closely with your chosen adoption professional to help you create an adoption plan that fits your situation, and they’ll also serve as your emotional counselor throughout this entire process. How much direct contact you have with your adoption professional will vary based on your security level and the policies of your prison.
While a prison adoption will be different from adoptions completed by women who are not incarcerated, there will be some similar steps throughout:
1. Finding an Adoptive Family
You can still choose an adoptive family for your baby if you’re pregnant in prison, but you likely won’t have the opportunity to share contact with them before you give birth. Once you decide what your preferences are for an adoptive family, your adoption professional can send you adoptive family profiles (including descriptions and photos of the family) to choose from. While you likely won’t have the chance to ask them any questions personally before choosing them, your prison caseworker will be able to answer any additional questions you have.
2. Receiving Financial Assistance
Your prison officials will make sure you receive the necessary prenatal care for your unborn baby, and these medical services will be paid for by the state. Because the rest of your living expenses (like food) are also paid for by the state, you won’t need to receive the same kind of financial assistance as a woman who’s outside of prison would.
However, you will be able to receive minimal limited financial assistance for items from your prison commissary and to pay for any phone calls you might need to make to your adoption professional or chosen adoptive family (more on that contact below). It’s important that you’re comfortable during your pregnancy, so your adoption professional and the adoptive parents will make sure you receive the financial assistance you need for certain additional items you’d like. For example, you might want to buy stamps to send letters to the adoptive parents or extra food to handle your pregnancy cravings.
Remember, your adoption services will be provided completely free of cost to you, so you don’t need to worry about any legal or adoption professional expenses when you choose adoption.
3. Sharing Contact with the Adoptive Parents
Even if you’re pregnant and in jail, you still have the right to share contact with your baby’s adoptive family — although your options may be a bit more limited.
Usually, the only way you’ll be able to contact the adoptive family is through letters but, if possible, you may be able to share phone calls (which the adoptive family will pay for). Your caseworker will help you determine what kind of contact schedule you would like in your situation, and they’ll help mediate this contact during and after your adoption process is complete. For example, they’ll make sure you receive the letters and pictures from the adoptive family after placement while you serve your sentence.
It’s unlikely that your contact methods and frequency will change once you are released from prison, but you can always work with your adoption professional afterward to secure your letters and pictures from the adoptive family.
4. Giving Birth and Signing Your Adoption Consent
If you will be giving birth in prison, you will likely be transported to a nearby hospital, where you’ll be kept under the monitoring of a security professional. You may or may not be able to interact with the adoptive family at the hospital; it will depend on your individual adoption situation. Your caseworker will coordinate with the local hospital to make sure those officials and you are fully prepared for the hospital stay and know what to expect.
During your hospital stay, you will also likely sign your adoption consent paperwork. Your adoption lawyer will have prepared you for this process by filling out pre-adoption paperwork when you were pregnant, and they will be present to explain exactly what you are signing and how it affects your legal rights. Your state laws will determine when you can sign this adoption consent. While you always have the right to sign the paperwork when you’re ready, you should know that waiting too long may place your child into the custody of the state.
After you sign your consent and are discharged from the hospital, you will be returned to prison. Your prison caseworker will work with you during this post-placement period to help you through your difficult emotions and mediate any post-adoption contact.
If You’re Already in Prison or Know Someone Who Is
Sometimes, women enter prison not knowing that they’re pregnant. When they find out, they may be concerned about completing their entire adoption process from within prison. Whether you’re an incarcerated woman who has found yourself pregnant or you know someone who is a pregnant inmate, it’s important to start thinking about those unplanned pregnancy options in jail.
A woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant in prison should take the necessary steps to become her own advocate. While the prison social workers will likely have referrals for adoption professionals, a woman always has the right to choose an adoption professional she wants. Here are some things you might consider if you’re pregnant in jail and considering adoption:
- Ask your social worker if you can do research on different adoption professionals from within the jail.
- If you can’t do research on your own, you might enlist a friend or family member to do research for you based on your preferences for an adoption professional.
- Ask if you can speak to a representative from your chosen adoption professional either over the phone or in prison before you commit to working with them.
While there will be certain restrictions for your adoption based on your being in jail, which adoption professional you work with will play a large role in how your adoption proceeds. That’s why, if at all possible, you should make sure you choose the best professional for you and your unborn baby. Some professionals to consider are:
In other cases, women ask, “Can someone adopt my child if I am in jail?” because their child was born before they were incarcerated. After a certain time in prison, they realize that the best choice for their child back at home is to have them adopted or placed into the guardianship of someone else, especially if they’re serving a longer sentence. If this is the situation you or someone you know is in, make sure that the mother talks to her prison caseworker and a lawyer to determine what legal process is best for her circumstances.
Your Other Options for a Pregnancy in Jail
Placing your child for adoption is a difficult decision to make, so it’s important that you explore all of your options for what will happen after your birth in prison before deciding what’s best for you and your baby. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which option is best for your baby depending on your own circumstances.
Placing Your Baby with a Friend or Family Member
If you’re serving a short sentence and are confident that you can provide for your child when you’re released from prison, you may want to consider a temporary guardianship with a friend or family member. This way, your baby can be cared for by someone you love while you serve the rest of your sentence and returned to you when you are released from prison. However, you’ll need to carefully consider whether you can provide the best environment for your child once you are released from prison before deciding on this placement.
Another option is to permanently place your child with a friend or family member through adoption. This may give you peace of mind knowing that your child will grow up with a loved one, but it can also come with some unique challenges. You’ll need to consider whether this friend or family member can actually provide the supportive environment you want for your baby, rather than letting your emotions and desire to keep your baby close dictate your decision.
Placing Your Child with the Department of Social Services
Given the choice, most mothers in prison would not choose to place their child into the foster system. However, if you don’t make a plan for your child after they’re born, they will likely be placed into the custody of the state for the remainder of your sentence. While you may be able to complete a reunification plan through the Department of Social Services after you’re released from prison, if the department deems reunification impossible because of your circumstances, your baby could be adopted or spend years in foster care waiting to be adopted. Your prison caseworker can give you more information on whether you would be able to be reunified with your child in foster care after you are released.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you make a solid plan for your baby during your pregnancy and before you give birth to prevent them entering the foster care system. While there are loving foster parents and people who adopt from the foster care system, there is always a level of uncertainty involved — which you can avoid by creating a solid adoption plan with an adoption professional.
Raising Your Child in Prison
Depending on your state’s laws, your prison’s policies and the length of your sentence, you may be able to keep your child with you as you continue the time left you have to serve. Some prisons provide nurseries and family preparation options for their mothers behind bars, which will allow you to care for your child while incarcerated and prepare you to adjust to your new motherhood when you are released. However, these options are very specific to certain institutions, so if you don’t have these programs available to you, it unfortunately won’t be an option.
Deciding What’s Right for You
Ultimately, if you’re pregnant in jail, you are the only one who can decide what’s best for you and your baby. However, your prison caseworker will be available to counsel you through this decision and connect you to the resources you need, especially if you choose a prison infant adoption. Remember, it’s important to find the best solution for you and your child to give both of you your best opportunities — for you when you’re released from prison and for your baby to grow up in a stable environment.
If you think you’ll have to give birth to your baby in jail, talk with your prison caseworker to find out what options are available to you.