WASHINGTON - Twenty-one states, including the District of Columbia, receive failing grades for their treatment of mothers and pregnant women serving time in prison, according to a new report released today by the National WomenÂs Law Center (NWLC) and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights. The report is the most comprehensive examination to date of state and federal policies affecting the treatment of mothers and pregnant women in prison, two-thirds of whom have at least one minor child and more than 80 percent of whom are non-violent, first-time offenders.
The report, Mothers Behind Bars: A State-by-State Report Card and Analysis of Federal Policies on Conditions of Confinement for Pregnant and Parenting Women and the Effect on Their Children, analyzes state and federal policies in three critical areasÂprenatal care, shackling and alternatives to incarcerationÂand assigns a grade (A to F) to each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia in each category. Averaging the grades in these three areas, the report gives a cumulative failing grade of D or F to twenty-one states, including the District of Columbia.
The failing states include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming. Only one state, Pennsylvania, receives an ÂAÂ grade.
ÂToo many women in prison fail to receive adequate prenatal care, are shackled during childbirth, and donÂt have the option of family-based drug treatment programs that would allow them to be with their children,Â said report co-author and NWLC Senior Counsel Jill C. Morrison. ÂItÂs shameful that so many states fail to have laws and policies to protect this vulnerable population of unseen and largely forgotten women. These failures not only compromise womenÂs health but also jeopardize the health and well-being of their children and our communities.Â
There are now more women behind bars than ever before. The number of women in prison rose by 400 percent following the introduction of mandatory sentencing to the federal drug laws in the mid-1980s. The percentage of women incarcerated for drug offenses surpasses that of men.
Shawanna Lumsey, who was serving time in an Arkansas prison for credit card fraud, received minimal pre-natal care during her incarceration and was shackled to the hospital bedpost while giving birth to a 9 pound, 7 ounce baby. ÂWe are human beings, even when we are in prison,Â she says. ÂPrisoners still have human rights. And shackling takes those basic human rights away.Â
The major findings of the report follow.
Women in prison are less likely than other women to have had access to regular health care before entering prison. They often have undiagnosed or untreated chronic conditions such as depression, diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which increase the odds of high-risk pregnancies and poor birth outcomes.
Yet despite the fact that many women in prison have high-risk pregnancies, the authors uncovered a systemic failure of states to ensure that pregnant inmates receive
basic and essential prenatal care.
- Thirty-eight states, including the District of Columbia, received failing grades (D/F) for having inadequate policies or not having any policies at all.
- Forty-three states, including the District of Columbia, do not require medical examinations as a component of prenatal care.
- Forty-eight states, including the District of Columbia, do not offer pregnant women screening for HIV/AIDS.
Shackling During Childbirth
Shackling mothers during labor and delivery is routine practice in many state prisons. Shackling is painful, restricts the motherÂs movements and doctorÂs access, and increases the odds of a compromised birth.
· Thirty-six states received failing grades (D/F) for not limiting the use of restraints on pregnant women during transportation, labor and delivery, and postpartum recuperation.
· The Bureau of Prisons ended the shackling of pregnant inmates as a matter of routine in 2008.
ÂThe practice of shackling operates under the radar screen,Â said report co-author and Rebecca Project Executive Director Malika Saada Saar. ÂItÂs shocking that prisons put shackles on the belly, arms and legs of a mother in labor, despite the fact that the vast majority of incarcerated women have not committed a violent crime and that women in labor are clearly in no condition to flee. ItÂs time to put an end to a barbaric and unnecessary practice.Â
Family-based Drug Treatment Programs
Since far more women than men are the sole caregivers to minor children, maternal incarceration compromises a familyÂs health and stability. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that women convicted of non-violent offenses have a lower risk of violence and community harm and are often the ideal prison population for community-based alternative sentencing programs. These treatment programs permit mothers and children to heal together in community-based facilities and consistently show successful outcomes for childrenÂs health and stability, family reunification, reduced rates of recidivism, and sustained parental sobriety. Alternative approaches achieve better outcomes than maternal incarceration and are less expensive to implement.
- Seventeen states, including the District of Columbia, received a failing grade (F) for having no family-based treatment programs for non-violent inmates who are parents.
While the federal government does not receive a grade, the report notes serious lapses in federal policy in prenatal care and overall health care for women and mothers in federal prisons. The report offers specific actions that federal agencies can take to improve conditions for pregnant and parenting women under their jurisdiction, including federal prisons and immigration detention.
NWLC and the Rebecca Project call on policy makers at the state and federal levels to adopt policies and best practices outlined in Mothers Behind Bars and to invest the resources needed to improve the lives of incarcerated women and their families.
ÂItÂs time for state legislators to pass laws that advance the health of incarcerated women and their children,Â said Morrison. ÂWomen in prison may be unseen and forgotten, but itÂs in societyÂs best interest to protect their health and well-being.Â
ÂPrograms designed to meet the unique needs of this forgotten population will offer incarcerated mothers and their families a meaningful chance to break the cycle of generational addiction, incarceration and poverty and achieve family stability,Â Saar added.
The National WomenÂs Law Center is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization working to expand opportunities and eliminate barriers for women and their families, with a major emphasis on womenÂs health, education and employment opportunities, and family economic security.
The Rebecca Project for Human Rights is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization advocating for justice, dignity and policy reform for vulnerable women and girls in the United States and in Africa. The Rebecca Project believes that women and girls possess the right to live free of gendered inequity and violence, and that investment in their leadership creates healthy, safe, and strong communities.