The Tennessee Prison for Women has long recognized the need for mothers and their children to bond while the children are young. The prison sponsors a weekend visitation program that allows children between the ages of three months and five years (up to their 6th birthday) to spend a designated weekend with his/her inmate mother/grandmother.
The Tennessee Prison for Women has established separate quarters away from the general inmate population for the child visitation program. Through the efforts of this program, infant and toddler children of qualifying inmates may be given the opportunity to bond with their incarcerated mothers during approved hours on the weekends. The children arrive at 5:00 p.m. on Friday and must depart no later than 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
An approved child visitation will allow only one child per visit per inmate. However a total of sixteen children may stay with their mothers in single cell units in the new visitation space dedicated for the program. The child and mother eat their meals in a more relaxed family setting within this unit. There is also space dedicated for activities designed to foster child development. There is an outdoor recreation area that has playground equipment and picnic tables.
Before approval for weekend visitation is granted, the mother must be classified to a medium or less custody level and be free of all class "C" disciplines for at least 90 days, no class "B" disciplines for at least six months and no class "A" disciplines for at least nine months. In addition, the mother must have successfully completed an institution sponsored parenting skills class. The child must have an approved application and certified birth certificate on file. Grandmothers are also given the opportunity to spend weekend visitation on designated weekends, if not filled to capacity.
Inmates convicted of child abuse or neglect are not permitted to participate unless visitation is recommended by the Department of Children's Services or specified by the court. The child must be in good health and not in need of any special medical requirements.
During the visit, the mother must supervise her child at all times. Failure to maintain supervision may cause the visit to be suspended and may jeopardize future visits. The mother must also provide the name and telephone number of a local family member or friend who is willing to pick up the child in the event of an emergency or if the child becomes ill during the visit.
March 8, 2002, the Tennessee Department of Correction formally dedicated the child visitation unit to the memory of former Tennessee Prison for Women Warden Penny Bernhardt, who was instrumental in the program's development and continued success. Penny Bernhardt served as warden at the facility from 1972-1980, and again from 1986-1992.