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Reproductive (In)Justice: 

A Newsletter on Pregnancy & Parenting in Prisons
February, 2022 JIWC Newsletter

Have a resource, community spotlight, event, or research findings you’d like us to feature in our next newsletter? Email it to us and someone from our team will follow-up with you. 

About Our Newsletter 

Our newsletter features timely research and community spotlights, and highlights relevant resources and events at the intersection of incarceration, pregnancy, and parenting. This work is supported by the national Cross-Center Collaboration on the Health of Justice-Involved Women and Children (JIWC). The collaboration is made up of a group of formerly or currently HRSA-funded faculty, staff, and students from the following institutions’ maternal and child health (MCH) centers: The University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Emory, Harvard, University of Illinois Chicago, Johns Hopkins, University of Alabama, and University of North Carolina. 

JIWC Recorded Webinars: Support through Separation

The JIWC is hosting a four-part webinar series focused on “Support through Separation: Coping with Physical and Emotional Separation.” This series aims to provide a trauma-informed, welcoming, inclusive, and healing experience, especially for those with lived experience. Find recordings of the first two webinars, “Support through Separation…for the Birthing Person” here and “Support through Separation…for Families Impacted by Maternal Incarceration” here. Stay tuned for more information on Webinar #3, “​​Support through Separation: Coping with the Physical and Emotional Separation…for the Birthing Person and Baby During Incarceration” hosted by Emory’s MCH Center of Excellence this Spring! 
Recent Research:

Prison Policy Initiative: Family Contact Mitigates Carceral Harms
In her recent “Research Roundup,” Leah Wang summarizes research findings from the last fifty years on the benefits of family contact for incarcerated people and their families. Research shows that family contact (through visitation, mail, phone, or video calls) reduces rates of recidivism, improves health and behavioral outcomes, and mitigates the harm incarceration poses on families by improving familial bonds.
Prison Policy Initiative: Related Outcomes for Incarcerated Women in 2020
In another recent briefing, Wendy Sawyer examines data recently released from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The BJS celebrated historically low rates of imprisonment, but Sawyer asserts they have since largely rebounded to pre-pandemic rates. Moreover, deaths increased by 46% in prisons from 2019 to 2020. Sawyer highlights a few “positive trends” especially for women and youth impacted by incarceration, but warns “the data also show how inadequate, uneven, and unstained changes have been.”
Gender-Based Financial Predation: The Bail Bond Industry
In their recent publication, University of Minnesota professors Joshua Page and Joe Soss examine how the bail bond industry disproportionately burdens women of color in the US because of race and class based systems of predation. In the Gender Policy Report, Page explains, “Often we typically talk about those who are arrested…but when we consider that there is this enormous population—again, primarily with women, often women of color—who’s brought into the bail process through these co-signing obligations, it really broadens our thinking about who is involved in the system.” 
Gender Insensitivity: Covid-19 in Women's Prisons 
A recent report finds that, “By and large, the carceral system has failed to adopt a gender-responsive approach to managing the pandemic.” The study suggests that the pandemic has elucidated and exacerbated the many harms carceral systems post to women, and calls for decarceration to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in prisons. Authors also highlight the many data gaps for Covid-19 metrics in US prisons and jails, and call for consistent and comprehensive reporting requirements. 
Extreme Sentencing Practices for Women in the US 
In her recent publication, Ashley Nellis outlines the prevalence of extreme sentencing for women in the US, and examines the socio-demographic makeup of these populations. Nellis highlights the role trauma plays in incarcerated women’s lives, and calls for the elimination of such extreme sentencing practices.
University Study on Perceptions of Incarcerated Pregnant People 
In a recent mixed methods study, researchers sampled students, staff, and faculty at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to explore public perceptions of pregnant incarcerated people. The study aims to inform future educational and policy efforts. 
Recent News:

In California: Compensation for Victims of Forced or Involuntary Sterilization
As of January 1, 2022 “survivors of state-sponsored sterilization can apply for compensation through California’s Forced or Involuntary Sterilization Compensation Program, which is being administered by the California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB).” Governor Newsome suggests that the program reflects California’s commitment to confronting this “shameful history” and addressing its legacy. Survivors can learn more about eligibility requirements and how to apply here.
In Illinois: Northwestern University Expands Prison Education Program for Women
Northwestern University’s prison education program welcomed its first cohort of women in March of 2021. Among them, Shawnette Green who has been incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center since 2013. Green embraced the opportunity stating, “I believe overall education is a huge part of creating people who feel more confident in themselves, feel more capable and, therefore, present as a better version of themselves in life.” 
In Maryland: Bill Proposal Explores Community Alternatives for Primary Caregivers
A new proposed bill in Maryland would allow primary caregivers to complete their sentences in home-confinement or in community based alternatives to prisons. If passed, the Primary Caretaker Bill may mitigate some of the harms posed to both individuals and families impacted by incarceration. The bill is of particular significance because two thirds of incarcerated women are primary caregivers to children or elderly relatives. 
In Missouri: Free Tampons/Pads and Calls for Prison Nursery Programs 
Two Republican lawmakers in Missouri are advocating for the provision of prison-based nursery programs. Research findings show that prison nursery programs can increase rates of breastfeeding initiation, reduce rates of recidivism, and promote more optimal health outcomes for both mother and baby. Missouri legislators also recently allocated funds to ensure that incarcerated women have access to pads and tampons at no personal cost. 
In New Jersey: Formerly Incarcerated Women Offered Support in Healthcare Access
The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) and the New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC) are providing a “Health Navigator” to support women nearing release. The Health Navigator helps women secure affordable health care, prescriptions, mental health care, and other community and social support services. Moreover, it approaches this work holistically by involving a person’s family and social support network.
In Texas: Tech Training for Formerly Incarcerated Women
In 2013, Brittany Barnett founded “Girls Embracing Mothers,” a nonprofit dedicated to supporting incarcerated mothers and their daughters. Barnett stated, “As the daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother, I know from personal experience that when one person goes to prison, the whole family goes to prison.” More recently, Girls Embracing Mothers partnered with an IT trade association, CompTIA, to pilot a tech-training program for formerly incarcerated women. The program will qualify the participants for entry level jobs in IT, with an aim of providing the foundation for sustained career advancement opportunities in the sector. 

Meet Our Team: 

Rosie Laine (Editor) is a first year master’s degree student at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health in the Maternal and Child Health Program with a minor in sexual health. She is especially interested in reproductive justice, patient advocacy, health education, and harm reduction. 

Rebecca Shlafer (PhD, MPH) is an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health. Dr. Shlafer's research focuses on understanding the developmental outcomes of children and families with multiple risk factors. She is particularly interested in children with parents in prison, as well as the programs and policies that impact families affected by incarceration. Dr. Shlafer is the Research Director for the
Minnesota Prison Doula Project.

Sara Benning (MLS) leads the day-to-day activities for the HRSA-funded Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health at the University of Minnesota. If you’re interested in learning more about the Center, the technical assistance we provide or how to partner on an educational event or training, contact Ms. Benning at

Jennifer Saunders (MSW) is a doctoral candidate in the Health Services Research, Policy and Administration program in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Her research interest is health policy that impacts reproductive-age women and their families.
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