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Blog Series on Reproductive Rights in Prison

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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December 19, 2007

RH Reality Check ran a great series last week on reproductive rights in prison, an issue which the ACLU has done quite a bit of work.

The blog postings ranged from sexual abuse in prison to mothering as a reproductive right. I’ve pasted some excerpts below:

What Do Prisons Have to Do with Reproductive Rights?

By virtue of being a strict system of physical confinement and punishment, incarceration has unique institutional characteristics, and yet it also provides a kind of microcosm of reproductive politics. Nowhere is race and class stratification more evident than in the criminal justice and prison systems, where poor women and men of color are dramatically overrepresented relative to their numbers in the population.

In a nationally representative government study, 20 percent of pregnant women in prison reported getting no prenatal care, and 50 percent of pregnant women in jails went without care.

Powerless in Prison: Sexual Abuse Against Incarcerated Women
While guard-on-prisoner sexual assault is common, putting a number on the instances is difficult because so many assaults are unreported….Despite the widespread underreporting, some statistics exist. First, there are about 200,000 women incarcerated in the U.S. (in federal, state, local and immigration detention settings), a number that is growing exponentially and that makes up about 10 percent of the total prison population. Amnesty International reports that in 2004, a total of 2,298 allegations of staff sexual misconduct against both male and female inmates were made, and more than half of these cases involved women as victims, a much higher percentage than the 10 percent that women comprise of the total prison population. It can vary from institution to institution, but in the worst prison facilities, one in four female inmates are sexually abused in prison, says Stannow.

Unlike access to emergency contraception, access to abortion by inmates has seen its way through the courts. Crucially, women do not lose their right to decide to have an abortion just because they are in prison; rather, the issue is how the prison accommodates (or refuses to accommodate) her decision. “There are constitutional minimums,” says Diana Kasdan, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Although the details can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, prisons must provide access to an abortion if one is desired. “Providing access” can range from providing transportation to an off-site medical facility, to allowing for a furlough or to providing abortions on-site, although Kasdan says she has not heard of the latter. A court in Arizona recently ruled that a court order to obtain transportation for an abortion cannot be required, and a federal court in Missouri ruled last year that a prison cannot refuse to pay for the transportation of inmates to receive abortions.

Mothering as a Reproductive Right
Since 1986, following the introduction of mandatory sentencing to the federal drug laws in the mid-1980s, and its adoption by many states at about the same time, the number of women in prison has risen 400 percent, according to a recent Department of Justice report, “Survey of State Prison Inmates;” for Black women, the figure is 800 percent. Most are mothers to minor children.

The condition of mothers giving birth behind bars is equally difficult. Babies are removed from their mothers within a 24 hour period after their birth and placed into foster care. Babies born to mothers behind bars are often born to mothers who labored and gave birth to them while in shackles. In our federal prisons and most state prisons, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women when they are in labor and when they give birth. Only 2 states have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women: Illinois and California. In the other 48 other states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Bureau of Prisoners, no such laws exist. This routine use of restraints on pregnant women, particularly on women in labor and giving birth, constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading practice that rarely can be justified in terms of security concerns during the delivery process.

For more information on reproductive rights in prison check out
Know Your Rights: Pregnancy-Related Health Care in Prison or Jail


Women Don’t Check Their Reproductive Rights at the Jailhouse Door

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