The number of incarcerated women increased by more than 750% from 1980 through 2017, with women of color being disproportionately incarcerated at 1.3 (for Hispanic women) to 2 (for Black women) times the rate of white women in 2017. Incarcerated women are more likely to experience a range of violence and other victimizations, as well as other traumatic experiences, prior to being incarcerated. All play a major role in their pathways to involvement with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, incarcerated women are more likely to experience victimization while incarcerated.
Carolyn Sufrin MD, PhD, discusses recent research on pregnancy frequencies and outcomes among women in US state and federal prisons. This new data is leading policy changes to address the health and well-being of incarcerated women who are pregnant, and the children born to them.
The United States has the second highest rate of incarcerating women internationally, second only to Thailand. In recent decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the U.S. correctional population, and women are a rapidly growing segment of this population. In the United States, 64.6 women per 100,000 are incarcerated, with the highest rate of 142 per 100,000 occurring in Oklahoma.4 Most women who are incarcerated are within their reproductive years, and many women are pregnant at reception.
Currently, there are no mandatory standards of care for pregnant women in U.S. prisons and jails, and many incarcerated women receive inadequate obstetric care. These facts prompted Sufrin to study pregnancy outcomes in U.S. prisons through funding she received from NIH’s Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health Program.