We live in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the entire world yet have some of the least safe, healthy and empathetic prison infrastructure in the entire world. With a 646 percent increase in the number of women in the criminal justice system. In the 1980s there were 26,378 women in prison but by 2014 this number has skyrocketed to 215,332. It’s no surprise some arrive in prison pregnant. In fact, about 3-4 percent of the 113,000 women who enter our nations criminal justice system are pregnant (http://www.sentencing
The lack of physical and mental healthcare pregnant women receive before and after giving birth is lacking in almost every regard. Women malnourished due to a lack of recognition for their needs are often miscarrying due to prison guards and personnel not making proper exceptions for physically demanding work. Women are often given too little or well-expired food while pregnant; for example, at Clark County jail in Washington state in 2010, where the pregnant prisoners received an extra eight-ounce carton of milk with all three meals, the milk was often times spoiled and inadequate for consumption (https://www.theguardian.com/u
Prisons are also dangerous for pregnant mothers’ mental health and the development of their babies. While a woman is still pregnant, she is exposed to many stressors within the prison that could harm her and her fetus, such as social isolation, psychological stress, overcrowding and communicable diseases (http://onlinelibrary.
Some of the most abhorrent treatment of pregnant women in prison is during the actual birth itself. With prisons in 13 states allowing indiscriminate use of shackling, other prisons around the country are allowed to use other dangerous methods, such as chemical irritants, mace or sedatives. Pregnant women giving birth are almost treated like animals. Though declared dangerous by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare has made no mandatory regulations limiting the use of shackling for incarcerated pregnant women (https://www.acog.org/~/m
Another serious problem is that pregnant women are forced to have inadequate prenatal healthcare. Though prenatal care is required to be offered in the criminal justice system, only 54 percent of incarcerated pregnant women received pregnancy related care in 2004 (https://www.bjs.gov/content/p
Incarcerated women’s needs around the country are not being met by our current prison system. With no standardized rules on the treatment of women in prison, how can we expect guards and related personnel to treat these women with decency and care? If we want to see improvement in the system, we must rid it of these loopholes and lack of enforcement to allow these women to be treated with humanity and respect.
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