The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world (we do not even have the highest population). Many people only think of men going to prison, but we know better. Over the last few decades, the number of women in jails and prisons in the US has increased significantly.
Women who are incarcerated face a myriad of health issues that men do not. This is especially true for women who go to jail when they are pregnant or become pregnant while they are incarcerated. Women who are pregnant in prison have rights, but they are often ignored. Today, we want to discuss what happens to a pregnant woman in prison as well as some of the resources available.
Giving birth in jail
If you have seen the news over the last week, you may have come across the story of a woman who gave birth in a jail cell in Denver. It happened on July 31. She was arrested and place in a cell. She woke up early in the morning with contractions, alerted the guards, and waited.
Eventually, she realized she would get no help. Six hours after first telling a guard she was in labor, she delivered her baby by herself.
This case may seem extreme. Granted, most women do get taken to the hospital to give birth when they are incarcerated, but there are nine months of care leading up to the birth. Most prenatal and postnatal care for mothers in jail is inadequate.
- There are around 111,000 women incarcerated in the United States according to a report by NPR.
- Nearly 4% of women in state prisons and 3% of women in federal prisons are pregnant.
Pennsylvania state prisons do not have built-in nursery programs for pregnant women. In fact, the NPR report mentioned above says that the correctional system has not adapted tot eh large increase of incarcerated women. This has led to serious health and social consequences for children of incarcerated mothers.
Resources for pregnant inmates
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania says you should follow these steps if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant while in jail.
- Tell prison staff and get a pregnancy test. Prison staff needs to know about the condition as soon as possible.
- Learn about your options. This can include keeping the baby, considering adoption, or termination. If you want to keep the bay but will still be in jail when the baby is born, you can choose to have a relative or friend care for the child while you are in jail. You can also choose to put the child up for adoption, but this will end your parental rights. You can also discuss abortion options with a healthcare provider.
- Make a decision and make a plan. Once you make your decision, you need to focus on getting the quality healthcare you deserve. Have your family contact an attorney who can work to ensure your rights are upheld while incarcerated. This can include:
- Receiving adequate healthcare while pregnant
- Limited use of restraints on pregnant and postpartum women
- Receiving adequate menstrual hygiene products