Babies Raised in Prison May Benefit Inmate Moms

Jacqueline McDougall raised her son Max in prison while she was incarcerated for stealing.
3:00 | 02/21/14

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Transcript for Babies Raised in Prison May Benefit Inmate Moms
With the number of U.S. Female prisoners on the rise, there's an issue to address -- babies behind bars. Now some states are allowing a number of incarcerated women to keep their babies behind bars. While they sate's good for the mother, what about the kids? . Reporter: Tomorrow, Jacqueline meets with her parole board. What's at stake in her very freedom. She's already served nine months in prison for stealing. Her sentence could keep her locked up for three more years. It's very nerve wracking. It feels like they have your future in your hands. Yes, yes, definitely. Reporter: If parole is denied, her son max might be taken away from her because if he gets too old, he'll have to leave prison. Yep, max is actually growing up behind bars. Hello. What's your name? I'm max. Reporter: Hi max. Jax ly Jacqueline is an inmate in new York state. One of a growing number of mothers raising their babies in prison. He's such a good little Bo I. I got very lucky. Reporter: "Nightline" spent a year following them. Is it cruel to keep babies in prison? And do the inmates deserve to be with their kids while paying their debt to society. The vast majority of the 2,000 or so inmates who give birth in American prisons are separated from their babies, as depicted in this gripping scene from Orange is the new black when a distraught new mother returns to her cell childless. But Bedford is just one of a handful of women prisons that allow some incarcerated moms to keep their newborns with them until the babies are 1 mon8 months old. Max is six months old and needs help just standing up. I see you. I see what you're doing. You're very important. Just seeing his little face every day and knowing that I have to take care of him is going to be a big incentive for me, definitely. Reporter: There are people in our country who think you committed a crime, you don't deserve to be with your baby. I would say just like they say here, it depends on the nature of your crime. No one convicted of violent crimes, arson or crimes involving children are allowed into the program. But for those who are accepted, they live in a separate wing apart from the general population. Make no mistake. This is still prison. There are very few personal freedoms. No cell phone, no jewelry or makeup and just three photos a month of the baby. This is where you sleep. And there's bars on the windows. Reporte this is the only home max has ever known. Jacqueline got caught stealing silverware. She said she needed the money to buy drugs. What kind of drugs? Everything. A lit built of everything. Pills, cocaine. Reporter: What kind of pills? Like painkillers. Reporter: Jacqueline said she was clean and associasober by the time she landed in prison. I was in labor for 48 hours with max. Reporter: Giving birth to max in prison has opened her eyes. I cleaned up my act and got to see where I was headed. At the end of it all, now I think it saved my life. Reporter: It's now a month later, March, and we return for another visit. A pediatrician who comes every two weeks confirms max's progress. Gained exactly what we expected him to gain with his weight and height and his brain is growing nicely as well. Reporter: The check-up also gives her an opportunity to get parenting advice. He ate some noodles, table food? I would hold on the table food. Reporter: Surprisingly, the baby is statistically more likely to thrive with mom, even in prison. How does it benefit a baby to be raised behind bars? You know, the babies aren't aware they're behind bars. They get excellent care. They're very well bonded to the moms. Bonding gives a baby trust in the world and that they will be taken care of. Reporter: Max and his mother had never spent a full day apart. Aside from her chores in the prison block, she's a full time single parent. Babying, diapers and nursing, which heightened bonding between mother and baby. Mother also gets parenting classes. Liz Hamilton runs the nursery program at Bedford. I can see people at home thinking well, they have it so good. I mean, I actually heard one of the prison guards say I didn't get to take my baby to a doctor twice a month. In what way is being in this environment punishment. You see the warm fuzzies, baby care. You don't see the, you know, waking up early in the morn, getting all your chores done. Reporter: They don't have their freedom. No. And they don't G et to make all the choices they would outside. Reporter: All these services have a price tag, roughly $24,000 a year. But it turns out that is cheaper than the $30,000 a year it costs if a mom winds up back in jail. If if she stays out of jail for five years, think of the savings. Reporter: A third of moms separated from their babies wound up back in prison compared to under 10% for those able to keep theirs. As for Jacqueline, she gets to keep max with her. That parole board meeting she was nervous about resulted in an early release date. If all goes well, they'll get to walk out of prison together in the summer. He'll be 11 months old before we leave. We'll be out before his first birthday. Reporter: Joyce browning gave birth in these twins on the same day as Jacqueline and wanted to raise them herself. It's just a feeling. Reporter: You had a maternal instinct. But when the twins were 4 months old, she said she got into an argument with a prison guard on Christmas eve and her babies were sent home. It was crazy. Everything happened to fast. It was traumatizing. Reporter: Though she was lucky to have the baby's father step up, she spent the rest of her days in prison worrying about them. It's just a horrible feeling, you know? Are they safe? Is everything all right. Reporter: You're describing heart ache. Yes, yes. I was in a lot of pain. Reporter: As for Jacqueline, it's now may. Just 17 days and counting before freedom. We return to find mack walking like a champ but mom's a bundle of emotions. I'm nervous. Nervous to be home with a baby. I never really had to take care of myself. Now I'll be myself and a child. Reporter: And then finally, the day she's been waiting for arrives. June 10, freedom. Freedom is daunting. Yes, it is. Here we don't have the choice really to do our own thing. And out there, I have all the choices in the world. What do I want to eat today to do I want to get high. Reporter: But then she's through a last portal and back with a final shout to her fellow prisoners on the nursing ward -- Bye. Be good. I love you, too. -- She's on her way. You're doing it, honey. Reporter: After three months being out in the real world, we catch up with Jacqueline and max. You did it. Good job. It was very hard the first month, I think, to really get a grasp on being sober and being home and what real life is going to be like for me now. Reporter: They're staying with her parents for now, but Jacqueline has landed her first job and is determined to make her son as proud of her as she is of him. I just want to work and save money. Reporter: You're not sugar coating it. This is not going to be easy. No. It's starting from nothing. So I'll get there. Jimmy: What are your hopes and dreams for him? I just hope one day he can learn from my mistakes and not have to go down the road that I chose. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm juju Chang from upstate new

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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