Children's advocates say the provincial government's decision to end a program that allows moms to keep their babies in jail will harm babies more than it will help them.

The decision flies in the face of research that says babies need their moms around to bond with them -- and moms need the babies to give them a purpose when they are released from prison, said social worker Alison Granger-Brown.

"There is a huge amount of research already done on this issue," said Granger-Brown. "Why are we not actually listening to and abiding by the research that proves this is a valuable thing?"

For four years, female inmates at the Alouette Correctional Centre have been allowed to raise babies in a special section of the jail.

But the provincial government has quietly decided to scrap the program, saying it was concerned about infant safety.

Twelve mothers and their babies have gone through the program, including Jennifer Smith, 24, and her daughter Sierra.

She was arrested on drug charges in February, 2007, and sent to Prince George Regional Correctional Centre.

"I was up for three for four days in a row," she said. "I was basically doing crimes to support my drug habit."

She said her life of drugs would have continued -- except she found out she was pregnant in prison.

She was moved to the Alouette Correctional Centre, and gave birth two months before the end of her sentence.

She says that was the moment that she didn't want to think about drugs any more -- and hasn't since.

"I had a child," she said. "That's basically the only thing that changed my life."

Researchers say that if a child and a mom are kept together even in prison, the children will develop better, and the women tend to have a much smaller chance of reoffending.

But the province may have to wrestle with legal issues of what happens if the baby gets hurt, said UBC professor of social work Richard Sullivan.

"There's a legal grey area of what is the duty of care the province is assuming," he said.

There is still a federal program that allows babies in certain prisons.

B.C. Corrections wouldn't return calls for comment on this story.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward