‘A matter of equity’

Nearly 4 percent of women who go to prison are pregnant — and their treatment is dismal

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The first study of pregnancy rates in the U.S. prison population in decades has provided vital statistics that could help protect pregnant incarcerated women who sometimes have little to no access to medical care or reproductive services.

Speaking to NPR, study author Dr. Carolyn Sufrin described the 7-fold increase in the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. as a crisis exacerbated by “deep racial disparities in incarceration rates.”

The study, which surveyed 57 percent of the U.S. prison population, found that 3.8 percent of newly admitted women inmates were pregnant. Over the course of the year, the wardens told researchers they had 753 live births in prison, 46 miscarriages, 4 stillbirths, and 11 abortions. According to Sufrin, many incarcerated women are denied access to prenatal care, endure long stints in solitary confinement, and are refused access to abortion. She said she also personally witnessed women giving birth while shackled to their beds.

Sufrin said the health risks and indignities suffered by pregnant women in prison are emblematic of the justice system’s weaponization against communities of color.

“This is a matter of equity, of racial justice,” she explained. “We know that children who are separated from their mothers because they’re in custody are more likely to end up in the foster care system even from birth and not have visits from their parents … They’re also more likely to be incarcerated themselves in the future. So the impact of these pregnancies on the next generation on families and communities, particularly communities of color, is profound.”

Read the full story at NPR.

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