February 4, 2019, story by Malcolm Burnley and photography by Kriston Jae Bethel - Next City
EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was produced with support from the Fuller Project for International Reporting, in collaboration with Resolve Philadelphia.
Warden Nancy Giannetta, clutching a dense ring of keys, gets buzzed through a series of security doors and into Unit G of Riverside Correctional Facility, a county jail for women in Philadelphia. It’s a Thursday afternoon in January when Giannetta greets three uniformed guards on her way to the back of the unit, where there’s a room with a turquoise door and windows shielded from the inside by a curtain.
“Ladies, you can resume your activities, just try to stay out of the way,” says Giannetta, who untangles a key to unlock a room no bigger than a few standard cells.
Inside are folding tables, plastic chairs, a cooler, and the low-pitched, electrical hum of a hospital-grade breast pump. It’s where Cierra Jackson pumps according to her specifications, three times a day, under the direction of a doula and a nurse. “They gave me a book on breast-pumping and it was telling me that the breast milk has antibodies,” Jackson says. “It’s very helpful for the baby, keeping them smart and healthy. I did not know until I read the book. I never breastfed before — I never wanted to.”
Jackson is one of six mothers at Riverside who are currently participating in the lactation program, one of the first of its kind inside an American jail. Women who give birth just before or during their time here are given access to breastfeeding education and the facilities of the lactation room, plus additional hand pumps and milk storage bags to keep within their cells. Case managers from a local nonprofit transport the mothers’ milk directly to their babies on the outside, returning to the jail with pictures and updates.