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Governor Kristi Noem: Visiting Mothers and Their Newborn Children in Our State Prisons: Hope for the Future

Visiting Mothers and Their Newborn Children in Our State Prisons: Hope for the Future 

By: Kristi Noem  
July 15, 2022  


In my four years as Governor, I have focused on finding ways that our programs can positively impact the next generation. This goes beyond reading about what state government does—I go out and see these programs for myself so I can understand exactly what we can do to improve them.


This week, I visited the mother-baby unit at the women’s prison in Pierre. This simple trip did my heart good—it showed me that we are making a difference in these women’s lives.


When Kellie Wasko, our new Secretary of Corrections, joined my cabinet earlier this year, South Dakota was one of only nine states to have a mother-baby program for incarcerated women who find themselves carrying a child. But we definitely had room to improve. I charged Kellie, who is a mother like me, with making this program bigger and better, and I saw the results of her great work this week. 


Now, incarcerated mothers can bond with their babies for 30 months after birth. Most of the women who participate in this program will have served their sentences by the time those 30 months are up. Because of the changes we’ve made, they will re-enter their communities with a strong relationship with their children and motivation to stay on the right path. Thanks to our Governor’s House program, a separate home on the prison grounds set aside especially for these women and their children, these new mothers have a safe place to stay and form a community with each other, too. We also provide educational, mental, and physical support as they start their parenting journeys.


As state leaders, we must offer these women the support they need to turn their lives around. To be sure, these women made mistakes. But their babies—born during their mothers’ incarceration—did nothing wrong. They deserve the best start to their early childhood. And their mothers deserve a measure of forgiveness as they repay their debt to society. That is part of what it means to be pro-life.


Several of the mothers I visited told me of the impact this program was having on them and of their desire to leave prison with their new child at the end of their sentence and never return. That is the ultimate goal for these women: leave prison and return home to raise a healthy child in their community as a productive member of our society.


I will continue to advocate for the necessary facility and security upgrades to keep our prisons safe and effective. We have made progress on that score in the last year, and we will continue to do so as time goes on. I know, after visiting our mother-child program in Pierre, that under Secretary Wasko’s leadership, we are on the right track.