OFFICE SPACE: University of Oregon law professor Aldave started the Portia Project, which assists incarcerated women.
Helping Moms Behind Bars
Oregon prisoners get support from a lawyer determined
to do the merciful thing. by Susan Caba
If Barbara Bader Aldave had her way, Oregon would let infants born to incarcerated
mothers stay in prison with their mothers
for weeks, or months—or even years—after
birth. “I would like to establish a nursery
in the prison, so that the women don’t get
just 12 minutes with the babies and then
lose them forever,” says Aldave, ’ 60.
Twelve minutes is her exaggeration,
but an Oregon prisoner and her newborn
remain together only as long as the mother
is hospitalized after giving birth. By contrast, the neighboring state of Washington
generally allows newborns to live with
their mothers for up to three years in separate prison housing.
A nationally recognized expert who
helped shape federal law on securities fraud
and insider trading, Aldave teaches business
law at the University of Oregon and directs
its Center for Law and Entrepreneurship.
She also earns a substantial part of her
income as an expert witness “in cases involv-
ing huge sums of money, in which every-
body has teams of lawyers and experts.”
Which perhaps gives this self-described
“rabble rouser” an unusual perspective.
“More into relationships than research,” the
professor wants the law to work as well for
the underrepresented as it does for the rich.
The plight of pregnant Oregon prisoners
—shackled to hospital beds during delivery
and required to sign away parental rights
immediately afterward—caught Aldave’s
attention in 2002. She got the Portia Proj-
ect involved on behalf of the mothers and
saw results. Shackling during labor—banned
in federal prisons but unregulated in state
facilities—was discontinued after the Por-
tia Project began campaigning against it.