Policy, Programs, and Interventions Regarding Pregnant Incarcerated Women
Nationally, at any point in time, between 6 and 10 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2001). Pregnant women involved in the criminal justice system (CJS) are similar in many ways to other incarcerated women and incarcerated mothers. According to the 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Greenfeld and Snell report that between 55-73 percent of women involved in the CJS have completed high school; Glaze and Maruschak (2008) report rates of non-completion of high school at 28–37 percent among incarcerated mothers in federal and state facilities. At the time of their arrest, Greenfeld and Snell (2000) report that 60 percent are unemployed and 30 percent are receiving welfare assistance. Glaze and Maruschak (2008) also report high rates of past physical/sexual abuse (54–64%), substance abuse (51–70%) mental health problems (51–70%), and homelessness (4–16%). These characteristics are troubling, and in the context of pregnancy can be dangerous to the health of the developing baby.
Pregnancy within the context of incarceration poses many challenges to correctional facilities, which aim to preserve public safety and carry out sentencing orders. Despite this important goal, pregnant women have specific needs for their health and the health of their developing fetus, including access to prenatal care services, management of pregnancy- related health conditions (e.g., gestational diabetes), and proper nutrition. Many correctional facilities may be ill-equipped to deal with these core issues, and as a result incarcerated women may receive inadequate care throughout their pregnancies (Ferszt & Clarke, 2012). Women who remain in custody for the birth of their baby face the possibility of being shackled during labor, a fairly wide-spread, but dangerous practice. Core issues for the newborn include the right to be cared for in a safe, supportive environment following birth. In the following paragraphs we expand upon these issues by first discussing the national guidelines for pregnant incarcerated women and the typical level of care provided to these women while in custody with a focus on the mutual and competing goals of correctional facilities, pregnant incarcerated women, the developing fetus, and newborn. Lastly we discuss opportunities for interventions.