Pa. human services, corrections departments launch doula program for incarcerated mothers

‘All of those are priceless experiences and experiences that anyone who has given birth deserves,” Genesis Birth Services Founder Gerria Coffee said Monday

By: - February 14, 2022 4:10 pm

Operating under the motto “in the beginning and beyond,” Genesis Birth Services wants children to thrive and parents to know they are supported. 

And with a new pilot program and partnerships with the state departments of corrections and human services, the Williamsport-based pregnancy care center is taking its services into a Pennsylvania correctional facility.

The program, funded through the Tuttleman Foundation, has seven women enrolled at the all-female State Correctional Institution at Muncy and aims to support parents during the birthing process with doula services — birthing and postpartum support professionals — and community reentry.

As part of the program, incarcerated and expecting mothers have access to prenatal visits, biweekly checkups, and doula support during births, Gerria Coffee, founder of Genesis Birth Services, told reporters Monday during a virtual press conference.

“When our son was born, my wife suffered from severe complications after a traumatic delivery,” Max Tuttleman said. “In those trying moments, we felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to turn. And still, we had it better than most. When an incarcerated mother gives birth, most of the time, they are alone, scared, and without any support or family by their side.”

We’re thinking about this less as a pilot and more as a work in progress to educate these individuals in terms of what’s available to them, to their children, and to their children’s caregivers while the parent is incarcerated and after they reenter their homes and communities.

– Department of Human Services acting Secretary Meg Snead

Doulas also help parents make birthing and postpartum plans, including support for nursing, feeding, perinatal depression, and anxiety. 

“To have a program where someone is there for them when they are giving birth, it’s immeasurable. It’s a priceless experience,” Coffee said, adding that she’s helped parents with encouragement during birth, as well as cutting the umbilical cord. “All of those are priceless experiences and experiences that anyone who has given birth deserves.”

The pilot program also provides resources for home visits and child care assistance overseen by the Department of Human Services. It’s an initiative acting Human Services Secretary Meg Snead said will ensure a “continued connection with their children and families that will be beneficial as they reenter their communities and parent in person.”

Though the program is still in the preliminary stages, Snead hopes it will expand to the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs, another all-female facility.

When our son was born, my wife suffered from severe complications after a traumatic delivery. In those trying moments, we felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to turn. And still, we had it better than most. When an incarcerated mother gives birth, most of the time, they are alone, scared, and without any support or family by their side.

– Max Tuttleman

“We’re thinking about this less as a pilot and more as a work in progress to educate these individuals in terms of what’s available to them, to their children, and to their children’s caregivers while the parent is incarcerated and after they reenter their homes and communities,” she said, adding that there is no definitive timeline for expansion.

Ryan Tarkowski, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, told the Capital-Star that seven pregnant people are incarcerated at SCI-Muncy. SCI-Cambridge Springs houses three. Both facilities can hold an average of seven to eight pregnant people at any given time, Tarkowski said.

Doula services are not currently billable through Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance program, but the Department of Human Services is working to expand access, Snead said. 

State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, praised the pilot program and urged lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass legislation proposed in the House and Senate that would include Medicaid coverage for doulas for all birthing people. 

Along with Cephas, Reps. Mike Jones, R-York, Tina Davis, D-Bucks, and Lori Mizgorski, R-Allegheny, introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill last spring. The legislation, currently before the House Judiciary Committee, proposes exceptions for pregnant people and incarcerated females. 

“We are currently in conversations with the Judiciary chair about potentially getting those bills ran,” Cephas said. “We are hopeful that they will run prior to the year concluding, our session concluding.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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