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Flanagan zeroes in on maternal care during visit to women's prison

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Inmates enrolled in the Challenge Incarceration Program stand in line at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, a women's prison, on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

SHAKOPEE, Minn. — Saying that she's "always a mom," Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan zeroed in on maternal care for inmates while visiting a state women's prison on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Calling for more resources for pre-and post-natal inmate care, Flanagan said the state "should do everything through the lens of children" following a tour of the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee. Along with Department of Corrections officials and state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, D-Roseville, Flanagan toured the facility's programs for inmates, including those centered on parents and families.

GALLERY Minn. Lt. Gov. Flanagan visits Shakopee women's prison

"Clearly, women who are incarcerated can't come to the Capitol," Flanagan told media after the tour. "So it's our job to come here."

While there, Flanagan said what she heard most from staff and inmates was a need for more resources for prison programs, particularly for pre- and post-natal care. The DOC did not have data immediately available on the number of mothers housed at the prison, but inmate Debra Columbus said she thinks the number is "high."

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Columbus herself gave birth to her daughter Naomi last month. She said Tuesday that she was allowed to spend 36 hours with Naomi in the hospital before she was taken away, and she had to return to prison. She hasn't seen her baby since.

"One of the hardest things is to leave your baby at the hospital and come back and be incarcerated," Columbus said, her voice breaking.

Flanagan said she is looking to push legislation to provide more state resources to maternal care for inmates, and potentially non-legislative changes to administrative policy on how inmates are separated from their children after birth in order to ease the trauma done to new mothers and babies.

"It's not just about the women who are incarcerated. It's about their whole families," she said.

The issue of felons' separation from their children disproportionately impacts Native American women. Eighteen percent of the Shakopee prison's population is Native , while only 1.4% of Minnesota's overall population is Native, per Census data . Becker-Finn said a disproportionate percentage of incarcerated Native women increases the chance of Native mothers being separated from their children — continuing a historic trend of separating Native children from their parents.

"It's generational," Flanagan said. "And it's our job to stop."

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