Clockwise from top L: Sierra Watts in her only visit with her son, Oak Lee, before he was adopted; Minna Long’s son Noah; Michelle Barton with her daughter, Semaj, in February 2014, hours after birth; the mattress in the Wichita County Jail cell where Nicole Guerrero gave birth, June 12, 2012; Noah’s twin brother, Joseph. Excerpts from a 2015 letter from a pregnant prisoner in Oklahoma.
Yesterday, I flagged a couple of photo projects about women in prison and women visiting prison. Women bear the brunt of the brutal punitive prison system. While the nation prison population has increased almost five fold over the past 40 years, the number of women locked up has increased nearly eightfold. 800%
Particularly vulnerable in prisons are the same groups in free society — the elderly, those in need of mental health care, those with medical conditions that need constant monitoring, juveniles, those living under the poverty line and, of course, pregnant women.
That prisons could routinely damage the prospects and endanger the lives of pregnant women and babies is beyond belief. But that is what Vikki Law, who spent six-months reporting on incarcerated pregnant women, found.
For U.S. Prisons and Jails Are Threatening the Lives of Pregnant Women and Babies, Law interviewed a dozen women who had been imprisoned while pregnant. She also drew on prison and jail records obtained via public information requests.
In These Times, which published the piece, calculates that approximately 9,430 pregnant women enter prisons and jails in the U.S. every year. They are still shackled during labor, delivery and recovery. Pregnant women are withheld adequate food, they are denied medical care and, as we know in most states, their infants are taken away within 48-hours.
In one reported case, a prisoner was allegedly left to give birth in a holding cell without medical help. The baby was stillborn.
Law found that:
· many pregnant women received no medical care or experienced long waits
· most were constantly hungry
· others were restrained during labor, delivery or postpartum recovery, even in states that ban the practice
· the majority of those who gave birth in custody had their infants taken away within 48 hours
All of these shocking details indicate that the United States is in violation of the United Nation’s Bangkok Rules, which require the humane treatment of women prisoners.