It's something that's just not on the radar of most policymakers and prison officials, but experts are saying that it should be. A first-of-its-kind study was recently released detailing the care for incarcerated pregnant women in the United States, and the results are eye-opening.
The landmark study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, represents the first complete look at the frequency and outcomes of pregnancies among imprisoned women in the U.S. It found that around 4 per cent of imprisoned women in the United States were pregnant when they entered jail, and although women make up the fastest-growing segment of incarcerated people in the country, they are a cohort that has been severely overlooked when it comes to tracking their information.
"The fact that nobody collected these data before signals just how much this population is neglected,” said Carolyn Sufrin, assistant professor in gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
During this study, researchers collected data that revealed nearly 1,400 pregnant women were admitted to 22 state prison systems from 2016-2017. Out of those pregnancies that ended while the women were still in custody, 92 per cent were live births, six per cent were miscarriages, and one per cent of pregnancies ended in abortion.
These outcomes varied significantly state-to-state, which, according to Sufrin, was due to a number of factors including state sentencing laws, prison health care policies and public access to reproductive care. She added she hopes the study will improve care for incarcerated pregnant women, and that these women, regardless of their crimes, have a constitutional right to health care. Right now, there are no national standards of care for imprisoned pregnant women in the United States.
"It’s just not something that’s on [policymakers' and prison officials'] radar," she said. She went on to say that medical professionals must pay attention to this data if they care about health equality and providing standards of medical care to everybody.
While there is still much room for improvement, some facilities are working to better the conditions and health outcomes of pregnant women in their custody. At Logan Correctional Facility in Lincoln, Illinois, there are around 14 pregnant women in custody at any given time. It is the state's only women's prison, and according to Glen Austin, the prison's warden, they are making some long overdue steps to offer additional services for pregnant women - such as opening a new pregnancy wing.
“Women’s rights in the justice system are as important to me as overall criminal justice reform in itself,” he said.