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The Prison System Fails Incarcerated Pregnant Women

by Megan Lucas
This article gives a look on how incarcerated pregnant women are treated poorly and what can be done to fix it.
The Prison System Fails Incarcerated Pregnant Women
By Megan Lucas

Across the US thousands of pregnant women in prison face inadequate medical care. It is no secret that in order to have a healthy and succesful pregnancy, certain knowledge and supplies are needed. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should be maintaining a healthy diet including fruits and vegtetables, whole grains, and proteins. Prenatal vitamins are also recommended, along with drinking plenty of water. A healthy baby is the goal, but most prison systems do not seem to keep this in mind. In the United States, it is estimated that 58,000 pregnant women are incarcerated per year. In some systems, rates of C-sections, miscarriages, and pre-mature births are much higher than they are for the regular population.

Food served in prison is not typically up to these standards. It has been reported from women previously pregnant while incarcerated, that they were not given enough food, and were even served lunch meat, which is typically not allowed during pregnancy due to it carrying the listeria bacteria. Not to mention, women may experience nausea from certain foods during pregnancy, resulting in not being able to eat it. With little control over eating habits in prison, a woman will simply just not be able to eat if she is served something that her body won’t allow down. There are also reports of food being very dirty, covered in dirt and unhygienic, which can cause illness that may harm the baby.

In order to have a healthy pregnancy, you need a doctor available to you at any given moment. Medical attention may be provided in a prison, but not typically an OBGYN. If a woman is experiencing discomfort, bleeding, or pain, they must wait for a guard to agree to let them out of the cell and allow for transport to a hospital. This can take hours, or sometimes even be ignored. If the pregnant woman is given the okay to be transported to a nearby hospital, they will be either shackled or handcuffed during the visit, sometimes even during active labor. Shackling is where one is chained at the ankles and the stomach, where the hands are held in place with cuffs. Only thirty two states have some sort of restriction on the shackling of pregnant women, and only thirteen states have banned it completely. Shackling heavily increases the risk of falling, which can lead to the harm or death of the baby.

There is a story told by a woman who experienced pregancy in a Texas prison, where she confirms the abuse and neglect endured during this experience. The woman was having severe cramping and vaginal bleeding, but was not allowed any attention or care. Over four hours later, she was taken to a nursing unit where she was not examined, but put in a cell that consisted of no emergency call button, sink, or toilet. When her water broke, she was not assisted, and gave birth in her cell. This is just one story of many where a pregnant woman was treated poorly in the prison system.

Incarcerated pregnant women are treated with disrespect and no sympathy for the challenges that their body and mind are enduring. Having a support system is another important thing during pregnancy. In prison, these women are not given the slightest bit of support. Prisons should have a system in place for women who are experiencing pregnancy. This could include on-call nurse/doctor specializing in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, counseling, and a personalized diet plan consisting of the nutrition and vitamins needed for a healthy pregnancy.

Megan Lucas is a sociology student at Sonoma State University.
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