At the end of last week, the Rebecca Project for Human Rights and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released a disturbing new report, highlighting the terrible conditions for pregnant women and mothers in the U.S. prison system, the vast majority of whom are non-violent, first-time offenders. The 52-page report focuses in particular on the practice of shackling women during childbirth, which is still completely unlimited in 22 states.
Shackling women while they’re giving birth makes the process of labor and delivery much more painful, and make it more difficult for doctors to assess the health of the mother and the infant. The practice thus poses a significant threat to both, in addition to being a completely humiliating and dehumanizing way of experiencing birth.
Some other disturbing facts from the report:
Forty-nine states fail to report all incarcerated women’s pregnancies and their outcomes.
Thirty-eight states do not offer any prison nursery programs.
Thirty-four states do not require screening and treatment for women with high risk pregnancies.
The report points out that the prison system was designed with a primarily male population in mind. “For this reason,” the report’s authors write, “while most health care in a prison setting could be described as barely adequate at best for men falls even shorter from meeting the basic needs of women. Care for pregnant women is even more dismal, considering their additional health needs.”
In other words: both state and federal prisons are doing an abysmal job of providing health care to all of their inmates, but particularly to pregnant women, who comprise one of the most vulnerable prison populations.
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