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Reproductive (In)Justice: 

A Newsletter on Pregnancy & Parenting in Prisons
JIWC Newsletter
March 2022

Have a resource, community spotlight, event, or research findings you’d like us to feature in our next newsletter? Email 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. 

Upcoming Events:

JIWC "Support Through Separation" Webinar Series
Join JIWC for “​​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 on Tuesday, April 19 at 10 AM PST/12 EST. Join Lanetta Garner, a Peer Support Specialist, as she discusses her experiences working at Human Solutions Women's Shelters, and Alicia Roach, an experienced doula from Oregon. Jessica Katz (The Family Preservation Project), Lesley Mondeaux (Northwest Mothers Milk Bank), and Carrie Cohen (Portland State University) will also share their work in supporting families and children of incarcerated mothers. Register here! 

This is the third webinar of 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

Forum Series: Advancing Justice for Infants, Children, Families, and Pregnant People in the Criminal Legal System 
Please join the UIC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health for the Spring 2022 UIC CoE-MCH Irving Harris Early Childhood Forum. This year's theme is “Advancing Justice for Infants, Children, and Families: Efforts to Dismantle the Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline and Restore Maternal Infant Bonding in Carceral Settings.” Join on March 29, 2022 at 2PM CST for “ No Longer Welcome: Early Childhood Expulsion and the Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline”  with Dr. Kate Zinsser. Join on April 12, 2022 at 2PM CST for “Justly Born: Pregnancy in the Criminal Legal System and the Movement to Promote Health, Dignity, and Healing” with Chauntel Norris and Ashley Lovell. Register today!

Recent Research:
Community Relationships and Successful Reentry Outcomes for Rural Women
A recent study by Tillson and colleagues examined “the impact of community relationships—a woman’s sense of empowerment or engagement relative to her community context” on rural women’s experiences with reentry following incarceration. The researchers' findings indicate that “community connectedness” may allow for more successful reentry for formerly incarcerated rural women. 

Jail Personnel's Approach to Pregnancy Care in Southeastern Jails 
In their exploratory qualitative study, Knittel and colleagues examined jail personnel’s approach to perinatal care in five southern states—Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Researchers found a “strong focus on fetal safety rather than either an emphasis on the parental-fetal dyad or on parental/maternal well-being” and a “tension between the punitive goal of incarceration and the reality of jails as a health care safety net within the constraints of jail facility budgets and other resources.” The authors highlight the need for “community safety nets” in order to reduce rates of incarceration and to improve pregnancy related outcomes. 

Legal Debts and Increased Rates of Incarcerated Women 
Using data from Washington state, O’Neil and colleagues found a positive association between county dependence on monetary sanctions and higher rates of women’s incarceration. The authors theorize that “women’s economic precarity” can help to explain this association. O’Neil explains, “Not only are women going to find financial sentences more burdensome than men, they are also more likely to commit the types of crime that make them eligible for monetary sanctions instead of incarceration.” 
Medical Abolition and Reproductive Justice
In their essay, “Alignment of Abolition Medicine With Reproductive Justice,” Hayes and Gomez argue that incarceration promotes both reproductive and racial violence. They write, “Abolition medicine and reproductive justice push medical and carceral systems towards a focus on the structural factors that impede safe and dignified parenting and childrearing, bodily autonomy, and sexual and reproductive health.” They conclude by imagining medical systems that are racially and reproductively just. 
Medication Assisted Treatment for Incarcerated Pregnant People 
In their cross-sectional study, Sufrin and colleagues found that few US jails initiate medication treatment plans during a person’s pregnancy, and most discontinued medication during postpartum. 60% of jails continued to provide medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) to pregnant people who were taking medication before their time in jail. The authors assert that incarcerated pregnant and postpartum people are deserving of the standard of care for opioid use disorder, and identify this as an important area for public health intervention. 
Qualitative Study on Healthcare Experiences Amongst Incarcerated Women in Arkansas
In a recent study, researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with formerly incarcerated women in Arkansas to explore their experiences with healthcare while in prison. Participants’ responses emphasized a need for more specialized, compassionate, and gender-responsive care in carceral settings. 
Using a Gendered Lens for Restorative Justice 
In their article, Brewer and Caldwell call for increased attention to gender in restorative justice approaches. They focus on the unique vulnerabilities girls of color face in the criminal justice system, and outline proposals for “Girls Courts” to better protect and expand girls’ opportunities outside of punitive carceral systems.
Recent News:

In California: After Stillbirth, Mother Charged with Manslaughter of Fetus
In 2017, after testing positive for methamphetamine, Adora Perez gave birth to a stillborn baby. The next day, she was arrested and convicted of manslaughter of a fetus. Perez has served four years of her eleven year sentence, but has since returned to court to reopen her case. Abortion advocates warn that with the possibility of Roe being overturned, cases like this one could serve as a precedent for criminalizing a wide range of pregnancy-related outcomes including miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion. Accordingly, Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a warning to prosecutors across the state: “In California, we do not criminalize pregnancy loss, we do not criminalize miscarriages, we do not criminalize stillbirths.” 
In California: Reproductive Dignity for Incarcerated People Act Compliance Checks 
In August of 2020, California enacted the Reproductive Dignity for Incarcerated People Act to protect incarcerated people from neglect and abuse. The bill promoted more optimal settings for labor and delivery, placed strict limitations on shackling of pregnant people, and ensured detainees had access to menstrual products, obstetrics exams, and prenatal care. Attorney General Rob Bonta, who authored the bill, is now working to ensure that sheriffs and jail personnel are compliant. 

In Georgia: Federal Lawsuit over the Death of a Baby Born in Jail 
On December 30, 2020 Tiana Hill gave birth to her baby, after laboring in jail for over twelve hours in spite of her pleas to be transported to a hospital. Four days later her newborn baby died. Hill is suing the jail’s medical staff and Sheriff Victor Hill for her baby’s wrongful death according to a federal lawsuit. Tiana Hill states “This is a violation of my constitutional rights…I don’t feel like I should have been ignored like that.”

In Hawaii: The Women's Prison Project Pushes for Restorative Justice 
The Women’s Prison Project introduced twelve bills to Hawaii’s state legislature to dramatically change women’s rates and experiences with incarceration. A 2019 report to the legislature provided an important foundation for many of the subsequent bills the project introduced. Chapter 10 of the report calls for gender-responsive, trauma-informed, and community-based policies and programs to better support incarcerated women. 

In North Carolina: Substandard Care for Pregnant Incarcerated People with Opioid Use Disorder 
Elizabeth Thompson reports that although medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the standard of care for all people (including those that are pregnant) with opioid use disorder, “access to medications such as methadone and buprenorphine for people detained in North Carolina’s jails is spotty at best.” 

In Pennsylvania: New Prison Doula Program 
With funding from the Tuttleman Foundation, Genesis Birth Services is piloting a doula program for incarcerated people at SCI Muncy, the processing center for all women entering prison in Pennsylvania. The pilot program is situated in a broader bipartisan effort to pass the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act which outlines eight best practices for incarcerated pregnant women. The pilot doula program offers support through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Additionally it works with the baby’s caregivers outside of state prisons, and works to create a re-entry plan with the whole family. 

Nationally: Menstrual Equity in Carceral Settings 
As part of a three part series on menstrual equity for Ms. Magazine, Thais Alves and Emily Spears examine the national picture for menstrual equity in US prisons and jails. Alvez and Spears report, “...research shows, few states have taken action to address the issue and enforcement lags behind laws that mandate access to menstrual supplies.” They identify increased and free access to menstrual health products as a key gender-responsive intervention in carceral settings. 

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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